Use of lodging tax funds explained at city council workshop

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Sunnyside Finance and Administrative Services Director Byron Olson (left) and Councilman Paul Garcia review documents presented at Monday's Sunnyside City Council workshop.

Last night (Monday) the Sunnyside City Council at its monthly workshop was provided an account of how lodging tax funds included in the proposed 2011-12 budget will be utilized.

City Manager Mark Gervasi said there were several proposals submitted to the city of Sunnyside by the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce.

Lodging tax funds must be used for tourism promotion and tourism-related activities, with the idea of "heads in beds." The goal, according to Chamber of Commerce Director Pam Turner, is that tourists will visit Sunnyside and stay in hotels while attending events.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock is on the city's tourism committee and explained to council there is a beginning lodging tax balance of $130,000. The committee, she said, doesn't want to spend down the balance in anticipation of developing a request for proposal (RFP) for a comprehensive plan at a later date.

She said there were, in addition to the chamber's, RFPs submitted for 2011 made by Bill Flower. However, the tourism committee believed more information was necessary.

The lodging tax fund, said Hancock, receives approximately $90,000 in annual revenues.

Therefore, the RFPs accepted were those from the chamber, the Port of Sunnyside and the Miss Sunnyside Committee.

Councilman Don Vlieger liked the idea of a comprehensive plan. He said once a request for qualifications are received, he would like to know the type of work consultants have done in the past.

Hancock said the Miss Sunnyside Committee's request for funding for the Sunnyside Community Float was accepted because the float is a platform for promoting the community. The city included $5,000 from the lodging tax fund in the proposed 2011-12 biennial budget for the theme and construction of the float.

Mayor Pro-Tem Nick Paulakis questioned the funding for the float, and Hancock informed him the city began providing lodging tax funds to the Miss Sunnyside Committee three years ago.

The Port of Sunnyside requested $18,000 for kiosks, which qualify for lodging tax funds as a tourism-related facility.

The kiosks, said Hancock, will be located on land donated to the city by the Port of Sunnyside.

The budget for the project is more than $45,000.

The chamber submitted proposals for funding for Sunshine Days, Cinco de Mayo and the Sunnyside Lighted Farm Implement Parade, as well as for the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce.

Hancock said partial funding was recommended by the tourism committee. She said the committee feels "the chamber should concentrate on membership outreach and corporate sponsorship for events."

She said the committee believes Cinco de Mayo should generate $450,000 in lodging revenues and the tourism facility (Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce) should generate more than $700,000 to warrant lodging tax funding requests.

Vlieger questioned the funding for the annual Cinco de Mayo event. He pointed out the event generates approximately $28,000 in revenues and expenses were listed at more than $51,000.

Also, he questioned Turner regarding more than $9,000 in revenue generated from the event that was listed as income for the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce.

He said there needs to be a detailed accounting for rent, personnel and expenses associated with events and the chamber.

Turner told the Sunnyside City Council expenses for events are high due to security needs. For the Cinco de Mayo celebrations, more than $11,000 was spent on security during the 2010 event. That includes both police security and private security.

Her answer to his question about the income for the chamber was, "Part of that was a mistake on my part...I should have separated personnel from the rest of it (the detailed accounting of expenses)...I didn't realize I did that and I will make that correction."

Turner added, "It made sense when I put this together."

Vlieger asked that the city council revisit the Chamber of Commerce budget for events as the events draw near. He said he would like a better understanding on how funds are spent.

Turner informed him the city council receives detailed invoices from events, but she is willing to speak to them as the date of each event approaches.

"I would like to set a standard for this money going out," said Vlieger.

Approximately $80,000 in lodging tax funding was included in the proposals presented to the Sunnyside City Council. Funding for the proposals was included in the city of Sunnyside's proposed 2011-12 budget, but will be revisited on an annual basis.

The council will also have the opportunity to review funding as invoices are submitted for reimbursement purposes.

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