During a Coupeville Town Council workshop last week, some council members expressed concern about how the town allocates its lodging taxes and additional funding it provides to community partners.
For years, the town has allocated the funds, also known as “2 percent” or hotel/motel funds, equally between a handful of organization previously identified.
Those groups include the Coupeville Chamber, Island County Beach Watchers, Concerts on the Cove, Island County Historical Museum, Pacific Northwest Art School and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.
It’s been the same way for years.
Nancy Conard, the former mayor, said during one of her last council meetings that years ago the system was changed from a competitive process because of the conflict it caused. Because of Coupeville’s size, it has the option of not going through the same process as larger entities such as Island County and Oak Harbor.
Council members Jackie Henderson and Pat Powell both expressed interest in reviewing the town’s procedures and looking at options.
“It’s public money, it should be a fair public process,” Henderson said.
Councilwoman Diane Binder, who served on the county’s 2 percent committee this year, warned that the competitive process can get sticky, as she has witnessed personally.
Councilwoman Lisa Bernhardt said she too served on the county’s 2 percent committee and also receives funds from the town with her job at the Pacific Northwest Art School. She said it would be a conflict if she were involved in determining a new processes.
Henderson also raised concerns about additional funds the town pays each year to what are considered “town partners.” These payments come out of the general fund and are line items in the budget.
They include payments totaling $12,000 to the reserve, $2,000 to the historical museum and $12,000 to Senior Services of Island County for the Coupeville HUB. Some of these payments date back years. Some of the reserve payments date back to its inception.
In total, between general and 2 percent funds, the reserve receives about $15,000 from the town each year.
Henderson questioned if the amount given to the reserve is even a fair amount compared to the reserve’s other partners. Those entities include the state parks department, which has two parks within the reserve.
The county also pays $20,000 to the reserve.
Henderson asked whether the value of what the town gets from the reserve is worth the money it pays. She asked if anyone has ever looked into the partnerships, comparing the town’s use versus county uses and if the contributions are equitable.
“I personally feel like $15,000 is not a lot at all,” said Mayor Molly Hughes. “I guess it’s each group pays what it feels it can.”
The other issue with some of the community partnerships is the lack of a paper trail, the council members said.
Powell said she was concerned there is no formal agreement in place for some of these partnerships and of the ongoing mentality of doing it because the town has always done it in the past.
“Is this the best use of the town’s money?” Powell asked. “You have to be careful.”