Oak Harbor will be paying out less in tourism grants next year

The city’s tourism grant funds have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City of Oak Harbor will offer less grant money in 2021 than it was able to offer this year because of COVID-19’s hit to the tourism industry.

The city will offer just shy of $10,000 in new, single-year grants to tourism-boosting businesses and activities next year — a total of $9,576.

Last year, the city awarded $165,000 in single-year grants for events that were planned in 2020, but some of the money was left unspent because they were cancelled or postponed; the unspent money will be carried forward and the groups will be able to use it next year.

The new funding number may seem rather specific, and it is. Jessica Dela Cruz, a city accountant, told council members at their Oct. 6 meeting that it was the amount left over that the city could spend after paying for its prior commitments if the council approved staff’s recommendation.

The Lodging Tax Advisory committee, or LTAC, recommends grants to be distributed from the lodging tax fund. The city typically spends a fixed amount of lodging taxes each year, Dela Cruz explained. It had previously budgeted to spend $334,000 in 2020; needless to say, it did not spend all of that money.

Next year, the committee recommended that the city spend $305,000. That includes funds for multi-year grants that the city already awarded to the PBY Memorial Foundation and the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, carryovers of more than $118,000 in single-year grants left unspent this year and support for the Island County Tourism Committee. There was roughly $9,000 left over, which staff recommended the city council approve to be spent as new single-year grants in 2021.

There were several options for the city council members to choose from when determining 2021 spending. They could have chosen to spend no new money, half the amount they would spend in a “normal year,” the full amount they would spend in a “normal year,” their own decided amount or the staff’s recommendation, Dela Cruz said.

Councilmember Jim Woessner said he thought keeping some new funding unspent was important in case an applicant has an idea on how to bring in more tourism in the future.

Mayor Pro Tem Beth Munns asked if the fund could be opened again in the event that the city received more money than expected next year. Councilmember Joel Servatius, LTAC chairman, said it was possible but that he would rather keep the application process predictable so interested groups will be able to plan around it.

Dela Cruz and Servatius also warned council members that the fund had slowly been decreasing in recent years because it continues to spend more than it brings in.

“That account has been cut roughly in half in four years. It’s just something we need to keep in mind,” Servatius said.

The city expected to collect $265,200 in lodging tax funds this year, but it now anticipates to bring in slightly more than $146,000 because of the impact of COVID-19. It projects that the fund will bring in about $165,000 in revenue in 2021, or 60 percent of what it actually brought in during 2019.

The city council voted unanimously in support of staff’s recommendation.

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