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San Juan County Fair gets short-end of facilities funding awards

This year's grants from San Juan County's lodging-tax facilities fund will look much like they did the year before – except that there's less to go around.

Which could be bad news if you're trying to make ends meet at the county Fair.

In a 5-1 decision, the County Council Tuesday endorsed the recommendation of the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee in splitting up $315,000 in anticipated lodging-tax revenue – expected to be generated in 2010 – and dividing it between 11 separate tourist-related facilities, such as museums, parks and performing arts centers.

That's roughly $70,000 less than the $384,650 distributed from the fund this time a year ago.

The county Fair, awarded roughly $97,000 in 2009 – $45,000 for projects and $51,650 for payment on a loan – must grapple with the largest reduction. It will receive a total of $25,000 in the coming year. (Grants are dispersed the year after awards are made).

In presenting the group's recommendations to the council, LTAC member Brent Snow said the committee agreed that reducing funding for the fair is appropriate largely because the event takes place during "peak season," it primarily benefits one island, and, as a tourism draw, its impact is relatively small.

Meanwhile, the Orcas Farmers' Market, awarded $3,500 last year and $5,000 in 2007, won't receive a dime in 2011. Snow said the committee opted against considering the Market's application since it was submitted after the deadline. Councilwoman Lovel Pratt, San Juan South, who cast the lone dissenting vote, cited, in part, lack of consideration of the market's request and the higher fees that the group must pay for use of the county-owned Eastsound Village Square in opposing the recommended awards.

Funding for tourism-related facilities is generated by a 2 percent tax on local hotels, motels and inns. The county also collects, as does the Town of Friday Harbor, an additional 2 percent lodging tax, the proceeds of which are earmarked for promoting tourism outside the summer season.

County Councilman and LTAC Chairman Rich Peterson said meeting the goals of the fund's "master plan" proved difficult because of the anticipated drop in lodging-tax revenue. Those goals, which include encouraging new and innovative projects and events, and a promise of providing a predictable level of support for long-time recipients of the fund, such as museums, parks and community theaters, were established a year ago by the council and are intended to help guide the LTAC in its review of applications and its funding recommendations.

"There was very little wiggle room to do some innovative things," Peterson said.

The LTAC declined to back a $6,000 request for a fundraiser for the Lopez Children's Center, a one-time event featuring food and wine.

Still, one first-time recipient did make the cut. The committee, as well as the council, awarded $5,000 to the San Juan Islands International Documentary Film Festival. The film festival, created by the San Juan Island Rotary Club, will take place April 1-3, 2011, on San Juan Island.

2010 tourism-related facilities funding awards:

-- San Juan County Parks: $133,000

-- Lopez, Orcas and San Juan historical museums: $21,000 each.

-- San Juan, Orcas, Lopez performing arts centers: $82,200

-- San Juan County Fair: $25,000

-- American Legion Post 163: $2,500

-- San Juan Islands International Documentary Film Festival: $5,000

-- Lopez Chamber of Commerce: $3,000

-- The Funhouse: $1,300

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