Lodging tax grants to fund island projects

Thanks to tourism dollars, San Juan County projects are receiving a financial boost.

Another round of lodging tax grants are slated to be approved by the county council on Oct. 22.

“The lodging tax board is one of the most powerful boards we have at the local level. It picks which projects get funded. The council only has the authority to agree, add more money or subtract money but we can’t add any projects to it,” said Council member and Lodging Tax Advisory Committee Chairperson Rick Hughes. “We have some of the largest lodging tax collection in the state.”

The revenue comes from consumers paying a sales tax when staying at a hotel, motel, vacation rental or camping site in the San Juans. For 2020, a total of $1,054,323 was budgeted to disperse while $1,458,265 in applications were requested, so some projects did not make the cut. For 2019 projects, the committee awarded $950,875.

Project applications are reviewed by the lodging tax advisory committee, which consists of Hughes, Janet Baltzer, Lance Evans, Sara Farish, Kevin Loftus, Laura Saccio and Faith Van De Putte, all of whom volunteer their time. Their recommendations are then evaluated and approved by the council.

Two of the largest projects funded for 2020 are $145,000 towards doubling the size of the Village Green restroom in Eastsound and $85,000 for building walking trails in Deer Harbor.

“For the past four years we have opted to fund projects that create facilities for both visitors and community members alike — like public bathrooms, parking and trails,” said Hughes. “Our main goal is to add better value for our community and also provide an asset for tourists. We are trying to maintain what we have.”

Other recipients are Alchemy Art Center; Friends of Moran; Friends of Woodmen Hall; Glenwood Springs Hatchery; Keepers of the Patos Light; KWIAHT — Indian Island Interpretive Services; Lopez Center (for installation of a water tank liner and curtains); Lopez Grange; Orcas Center (for lighting); Orcas Chamber (for installation of new Eastsound sign and upgrade of public trash cans and website); Orcas Island Lit Fest; San Juan Community Theatre (handicapped access); Conservation District Leave No Trace and farm tours; Ag Guild’s Eat Island Grown; San Juan Islands Museum of Art; San Juan County Tourism Master Plan; and Woman in the Woods.

In addition, per contracts with the county, $35,000 is given to each of the Lopez, Orcas and San Juan historical museums; $40,000 to each island’s performing arts center; $50,000 to the county’s three chambers of commerce; $500,000 to the San Juan Islands’ Visitors Bureau; $300,000 to San Juan County Parks, Recreation and Fair.

“While there are lots of folks here, tourism affects the community in many ways that are positive,” Hughes said. “For the county to have $1 million to continue programming for the local community is a great opportunity. It’s an amazing tool. I know it’s difficult here in the summertime, but we are very fortunate to live in this community. Lodging tax and tourism allows us to provide a depth and breadth of services. We have a ferry system that is a limiter of the expansion of tourism. We are going to be lucky to keep the same level of ferry service that we have now.”