Langley creates new lodging tax advisory committee

Langley has formed a new committee to help address a growing number of concerns about tax revenues.

In response to the growing number of citizen concerns about how some tax revenues are being spent, the city of Langley has formed a new committee to help address them.

During a city council meeting last week, Councilmember Craig Cyr asked his fellow council members how they felt about creating an advisory committee dedicated solely to the topic of the lodging tax.

The city of Langley, like most municipalities and counties in the state, adopted a 2% lodging tax, sometimes referred to as the motel/hotel tax. Under state law, revenues from the tax must be used to fund activities promoting tourism or tourism-related facilities or attractions.

Earlier in the meeting, a report from Inge Moracinisi, director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce, revealed that the city brought in $222,000 in lodging tax revenues during 2021.

As Cyr pointed out, Langley is not required under state code to have a lodging tax advisory commission since the city’s population is below 5,000. However, concerns from citizens have arisen recently about Whidbey Camano Islands Tourism, a joint administration board composed of some elected officials which is funded by Langley’s lodging tax revenues. In particular, they have been worried about the transparency of the organization and claimed it has been avoiding public process. And according to Mayor Scott Chaplin, the board is considering changing to a nonprofit status.

The council’s conversation veered into affordable housing, when Councilmember Thomas Gill lamented that the city doesn’t bring in enough money to do anything related to housing. He suggested entertaining the idea of something like that at the county level.

“I don’t think anything meaningful would get done without a much larger base of income at this point, not in the timeframe that most people are thinking,” he said.

Cyr disagreed.

“While it could be complex, this lodging tax revenue could be used to fund bonds for affordable housing,” he said. “And if you look at this over a 10-year period, there’s really some significant money that could be used.”

He added that he would be willing to let some subject matter experts dive into the issue and see what’s possible.

Under state law, lodging taxes can be used for tourism promotion, the operation of tourism-related facilities and the acquisition of tourism-related facilities. According to the Municipal Research and Service Center, “the guiding principle is that these facilities should be used by tourists.”

Councilmember Rhonda Salerno was supportive of creating the new lodging tax committee for Langley and suggested that existing members of the county’s joint tourism board could be part of it.

“I think we have excess money that hasn’t been spent,” she said. “We have to look creatively at how we can use this money.”

Chaplin said the recommendation is that two council members, one staff person, citizens from the community and two people from industries that might be recipients of lodging tax revenues make up the members of the committee.

Public Works Director Randi Perry said an appropriate recommendation should be forthcoming from the city’s finance committee about how the funds are being used.

Cyr, however, said the finance commission is “tapped out” and doesn’t have the capacity.

Chaplin said he would begin the process of forming a lodging tax advisory commission and suggested that it could meet with the finance committee and bring the council some proposals in the future.