City cuts $20K in tourism funding

In a 5-4 vote last week, the Bremerton City Council removed $20,000 worth of lodging tax funding in the 2014 budget to Visit Kitsap Peninsula, a local nonprofit that promotes tourism in Kitsap County.

The move to cut the VKP funding was introduced by Councilwoman Leslie Daugs and supported by Carol Arends, Eric Younger, Nick Wofford and Jim McDonald. Voting against Daugs’ amendment were Greg Wheeler, Wendy Priest, Faye Flemister and Adam Brockus.

Daugs, who this week was tapped as the top choice by local Democrats to replace outgoing county commissioner Josh Brown, said that VKP’s website and promotional literature is often filled with typos and incorrect information. As examples, she said the organization recently misspelled Sen. Nathan Schlicher’s name along with a Bremerton businesswoman’s and pointed visitors to a business in Silverdale under a “things to do in Bremerton” list.

“I want our image to be a positive image, not misspellings and typos and minimal Bremerton references in a lot of the publicity,” she said.

“This is a difficult decision and I know our nonprofits need their money from the lodging tax,” Daugs added. “But our job on city council is to ensure the citizens’ tax dollars are spent wisely and for this particular situation I don’t feel that we’re spending the dollars wisely.”

Councilman Eric Younger agreed.

“The comments are valid on both sides of the issue,” he said. “For me, personally, I look at the quality of the product and I’m not satisfied with it.”

Younger noted that the money will still be available next year and used for improved signage or given to another organization that could “arguably make better use of the money.”

Council President Greg Wheeler, said he sees things differently.

“I’m not supporting the amendment,” he said. “It’s my belief that we get a lot of value for the money we are allocating this evening. Frankly, I don’t know where we would get a better value.”

Patricia Graf-Hoke, who serves as executive director of VKP, said the decision to cut funding to her agency “was pretty bizarre” and “came out of left field.”

“We were just a little surprised we weren’t afforded the opportunity to sit down and figure out what the needs were and address those earlier on in the year,” she said of the council’s decision. “As (Councilwoman) Wendy Priest said, why are we talking about his now. I think that’s what left us a little dismayed.”

Graf-Hoke said she has been fielding several phone calls and emails from folks that confused and disappointed by the council’s decision. She also emphasized that lodging tax dollars are quite different than regular sales tax and only come from guests at hotels and bed and breakfasts and are specifically designed by the Legislature for tourism marketing.

Mike Walton, who works as the executive director of the Kitsap Public Facilities District and is on a VKP advisory council, was the only person to offer public comment and he urged the council to maintain funding.

“The VKP does an exceptional job of its stated goal, which is to publicize our region to the rest of the world in order to bring people from around the nation, around the world, to this region,” Walton said. “As such, those ads and things do not typically focus on one area, one town, one region, one event, or one attraction.”

Walton said that Bremerton is always included and promoted by VKP, along with other Kitsap County cities, as a destination worth visiting.

“The lodging tax is there to support the hotels in the area and bring visitors, put heads in beds, to use the colloquial term, and that’s what the VKP does an excellent job of,” he said. “Their charter is not to bring day-trippers from Seattle over here in order to visit attractions but to get people to stay here for two or three days in hotels and enjoy what the Kitsap Peninsula has to offer.”


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