WENATCHEE — The East Wenatchee City Council agreed by split decision this week to take the first step to withdraw its approximately $40,000 in annual funding for regional tourism promotion.
What cities do with their lodging tax
Wenatchee and East Wenatchee each collect a 6-percent hotel-motel room tax for tourism-related expenses. Here’s how the cities spend the money:
Total tax hotel/motel tax revenue: Approx. $110,000
Of that, approximately:
$70,000 East Wenatchee Events Board
$40,000 Wenatchee Valley Convention & Visitor Bureau
Source: Nick Gerde, East Wenatchee finance director
Total tax collected (based on 2011 figures): $976,000
$398,000 Convention Center operations
$194,800 Convention Center construction debt
$311,000 Wenatchee Valley Convention & Visitor Bureau
$77,000* Museum and Special Olympics
*Prior to 2010, this would have gone to the Visitor Bureau for tourism promotion
Source: Allison Williams, Wenatchee executive services director
Five of the city’s seven council members approved the withdrawal during a Tuesday meeting. One, Wayne Barnhart, opposed, and the seventh, Chuck Johnson, was absent.
The decision authorizes the city to give its required 90-day notice to withdraw its funding from the Wenatchee Valley Convention & Visitor Bureau, an autonomous agency with representation from both Wenatchees that handles tourism promotion for the Wenatchee Valley as a whole. Johnson, the councilman who was absent at Tuesday’s vote, is president of the Visitor Bureau board.
Instead, the $40,000 will go to the East Wenatchee’s own events board.
Mayor Steve Lacy said in an emailed statement that he recommended the city take the action amid uncertainty over how the city’s tourism-promotion funding partner, Wenatchee, will spend its own tourism-targeted money next year.
Since the mid-1990s both cities have contributed equal percentages of a portion of the hotel-motel room tax they collect to support a joint effort to promote the tourism. This is currently the Visitor Bureau’s job.
Through 2009, the bureau received all the allocated East Wenatchee funds, plus an equal percentage from Wenatchee of about $390,000.
But in recent years, burdened by its debt on the Town Toyota Center events arena, Wenatchee began diverting some of the bureau’s tourism funding to help support both the annual Special Olympics event and the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center.
In 2011, that funds diversion totaled $77,000, according to Allison Williams, Wenatchee’s executive services director. Even more could be diverted next year to remodel the Wenatchee Convention Center, she said.
State law requires cities to establish a “Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC)” to review any changes in its lodging tax spending, Williams said.
The city council did that, and later expanded the LTAC’s duty to include a review of all city spending on tourism promotion, estimated to be about $340,000 next year, Williams said.
“They (the Wenatchee mayor and city council) feel this … process is giving us a fresh look at how we’re doing things,” she said. “Tourism is such a major, major part of our community … They want to make sure it’s done right, with the biggest bang for our buck.”
Rather than simply allocating the funds to the Visitor Bureau, the city has opened a bidding process to see if other agencies could do a better job. The deadline to submit proposals is 5 p.m. Monday.
The Wenatchee City Council is scheduled to choose a tourism contractor Dec. 13, Williams said.
In the meantime, the Visitor Bureau board and the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce are scrambling to mend a rift over a proposed merger and submit a joint proposal to Wenatchee for tourism promotion.
Visitor Bureau boardmember and Wenatchee City Councilman Bryan Campbell says the two agencies expect to meet the Monday deadline.
East Wenatchee Mayor Lacy objects that Wenatchee’s LTAC discussions and bid are part of a process that doesn’t include representation from East Wenatchee and that could render the region’s only autonomous joint tourism promoter — the Visitor Bureau — without funding.
East Wenatchee City Councilwoman Sandra McCourt said Thursday that their decision could be revised later, once they know of Wenatchee’s plans.
“We think our money would be better spent on our own events board, for now,” she said. “That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.”
Christine Pratt: 665-1173