Oak Harbor awards $436K in lodging tax grants

The city will dole out $436,000 of lodging tax funds to organizations that promote tourism.

The city of Oak Harbor will dole out $436,000 of lodging tax funds to organizations that promote tourism.

Back in September, the council voted to earmark $500,000 in lodging tax funds to be awarded in 2023.

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

There are two lodging tax options – a basic tax of 2% that is taken as a credit against the 6.5% state sales tax rate, so that the lodging patron does not see any tax increase, and an additional lodging tax of 2%, as well as the other state and local retail sales taxes, resulting in a higher tax bill for the patron.

The city of Oak Harbor has imposed both the basic hotel-motel tax of 2% and the additional lodging tax of 2%. The money awarded by Oak Harbor council members this month came from both the basic and additional tax.

The council followed the recommendations from the advisory committee, awarding $110,500 for operations costs to the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, another $65,000 for marketing costs at the chamber, $48,000 for the Oak Harbor Music Festival, $37,384 for a slide installation at the North Whidbey Pool, Park and Recreation District, $30,000 for the city’s public works department to “electrify the downtown corridor,” $30,000 for the city’s administrative department for the Whidbey Island Marathon and $25,000 for the Rotary Club of Oak Harbor’s windmill rebuild project.

There were a total of 15 applications, all of which received money.

According to the Revised Code of Washington, recipients should promote or market to tourists coming from at least 50 miles away, increase overnight stays in Oak Harbor and provide an economic investment to the city.

At a council meeting last Tuesday, Councilmember Eric Marshall raised concerns about how some of the award recipients would promote tourism, specifically the Park and Rec District’s request for money to install a slide at the pool.

Stucky agreed that it would not bring in tourists by itself, but he said it might encourage visitors to stay longer.

The North Whidbey Pool, Park and Recreation District Executive Director Jay Cochran was present at the meeting. She said she always looks for a hotel with a pool or local pool nearby for her family when she travels, and she would partner with the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce to feature the pool and slide as a city attraction.

Councilmember Dan Evans said he was also concerned about giving $1,200 to Oak Harbor Youth Sailing to redesign its logo.

“I can’t even wrap my head around what that would do to bring people into town,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Tara Hizon said anything that assists in the marketing of an organization or event that promotes tourism would qualify for a lodging tax award.

Hizon, Stucky and Councilmember Shane Hoffmire voted to approve the recommendations, Marshall and Evans opposed. Councilmember Jim Woessner abstained as he is on the board of the Craig McKenzie Team Foundation, which received an award. Hoffmire chose not to abstain even though he is the director of maintenance for the North Whidbey Pool, Park and Recreation District.

City Attorney Hillary Evans said if a council member’s employer could potentially benefit financially from a vote, they should abstain.

Hizon said she wants a clearer definition of when council members should abstain from voting.

“A lot of the stuff that this body votes on could potentially financially benefit some of our employers,” she said.