Tourist facilities receive 'status quo' funding for 2010

Some will get more. Others will get less.

But for the most part, San Juan County's tourist-related facilities will have to get by next year with about the same amount of public support that's helping them to pay the bills this year.

On June 23, the County Council doled out $333,000 in anticipated lodging tax revenues to nine non-profits — among them historical museums, performing arts centers, and a pair of county departments that operate tourist-related facilities, such as public parks.

That's an increase of $18,000 over the total amount that was allocated last year from the so-called "original" 2 percent lodging-tax fund. That fund provides financial support to local non-profits and to public agencies that operate venues, or that sponsor events, enjoyed by visitors and islanders alike.

That's in addition to another 2 percent lodging tax collected by the county to promote tourism.

The council, in a 5-1 decision, authorized the 2010 financial awards based in large part on the recommendation of the county Lodging Tax Advisory Committee. The committee, a 12-person advisory panel consisting mainly of lodging industry representatives and recipients of the 2 percent proceeds, reviewed 13 funding requests in mid-May — 10 fewer than a year ago — totaling $441,200. The committee whittled down most and agreed upon the allocations it would recommend.

Two requests were rejected because they were submitted by "for-profit" groups. A third request, submitted by the Lopez Island Chamber of Commerce, was rejected because it missed the application deadline.

Councilman Bob Myhr, Lopez/Shaw, cast the lone dissenting vote. He tried without success to persuade his colleagues to approve the chamber's $6,000 request, which it intended to use to help cover the cost of maintaining the public restroom in Lopez Village.

Three local non-profits will be first-time beneficiaries of the fund in 2010, though only at a fraction of the amount each had sought. The Orcas Farmers' Market was awarded $3,500. The Friday Harbor Veterans Museum, hosted by American Legion Post 163, is slated to receive $2,500. The Community Shakespeare Company received $5,000, one-third of the amount requested, for its 2010 fall festival.

Orcas Island's Jim Nelson, a long-time LTAC member, said there's growing frustration among the committee that continued requests by long-time recipients of the fund leaves little room for new events or other local non-profits to receive a significant amount of support.

However, the committee agreed it would be best to recommend a "status quo" funding level for next year given the tough economic climate that local non-profits, as well as the community, are grappling with this year and could face the next.

"We'll have to decide at some point if we want to make room for more non-profit start ups," Nelson said. "The problem basically is that all of the available funds are sucked up by organizations that have become dependent upon them year after year."

A total of $360,000 was available to be distributed for 2010. However, financial awards for a coming year are dependent on the amount of revenue generated in the year in which allocations are made. As of the end of May, lodging tax revenue, according to the auditor, was trailing early projections by 4 percent — $14,400 short of the amount anticipated to be collected by the end of this year.

The LTAC recommended that a cushion of $27,000 be held in reserve, a cautionary move which the council also endorsed, in the event that lodging tax revenue comes up short of projections.

2010 allocations for tourist-related facilities
— County Parks: $133,000.
— County Fair: $45,000.
— Historical museums: $20,600 (each).
— Performing arts centers: $82,200 (shared).
— Community Shakespeare: $5,000.
— Orcas Farmers' Market: $3,500.
— Friday Harbor Veterans Museum: $2,500.
— Held in reserve: $27,000.

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