City approves $500k in lodging taxes to be available for grants

The Oak Harbor City Council voted to approve $500,000 of lodging tax funds to be awarded in 2023.

The Oak Harbor City Council voted to approve $500,000 of lodging tax funds to be awarded in 2023.

The lodging tax is a 2% tax from hotels, motels and other lodging-related sales to fund grants that promote tourism.

Councilmember Bryan Stucky is the chairperson of the tax advisory committee. He said this was the largest amount of money that has ever been available, and he was “shocked” at how much there was in the fund.

City Finance and Performance Analyst Chas Webster explained during last week’s meeting that a city or county with a population of 5,000 or more that collects lodging tax must also establish a lodging tax advisory committee to review grant applications and make funding recommendations.

“Any proposal to assign lodging tax funding must be submitted to the lodging tax advisory committee for review and comment at least 45 days before final action can be taken on the proposal by the legislative body,” Webster said.

Sept. 6 begins the 45-day clock.

She said the current plan is to open up the grant application period from Sept. 26 to Oct. 5. The first regularly scheduled city council meeting after the 45-day period to approve the grant awards would be on Nov. 2.

Finance Director David Goldman said that the fund has continued to grow despite the city spending about $300,000 of it a year.

“This might be an opportunity to provide a little bit more funding than we have in the past in order to help out the community continue to recover from what’s happened recently with the economy,” Goldman said.

City Administrator Blaine Oborn said that the members of civic organizations who applied last year said that the funding wasn’t enough. The amount of the fund that will be distributed is up to the city council to decide.

Councilmember Jim Woessner said he was concerned that approving $500,000 was not sustainable, especially if the money was going toward city events, as the fund would not be so large in the following years.

“What I don’t want to end up doing is just spending it to spend it,” he said, adding that he didn’t want to sit on money that could be used in the community.

Stucky reiterated that the money should be given to the community if the city did not have a specific plan for it.

“If we don’t have a plan, this kind of forces our hand to make one quickly or put the money back out there for folks to apply for,” he said.

Councilmember Beth Munns said she wanted to lower the number to $400,000 to reserve some money for a large infrastructure project such as a downtown public restroom. Councilmember Eric Marshall also said he wanted to lower the fund.

Nonetheless, the motion passed 5-2. Munns and Marshall were opposed.