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Committee works out details of tourism grant program

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$250,000 in available grants designed to encourage tourists to visit Newberg

The city committee charged with figuring out how to dole out excess tourism tax funds set the framework, last week, for how to spend the bulk of the nearly $370,000 at its disposal this year.

More specifically, the Transient Lodging Tax Ad-Hoc Committee worked out the details for a large grant program aimed at putting up to $250,000 toward projects and ventures that will encourage tourists to stay the night — and spend money — in Newberg. SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Allison Inn & Spa is the primary source of room tax receipts that Newberg's Tranisent Lodging Tax Ad-hoc Committee must determine how to spend in the coming years. The fund generated by the lodging tax will top $250,000 this year, city officials say.

"So, based upon your discussion last meeting when we did the adjustments in the budget … there's $250,000 that (is) available. It could be dispersed to multiple organizations or businesses. Nonprofits, government and for-profit organizations can apply," explained Community Development Director Doug Rux, before letting the committee debate the finer points of the grant program, mostly stepping back in to re-focus the largely informal discussion.

Formed by City Council action last fall and convened in January, the 13-member board is tasked with hearing funding requests for projects that will draw more tourists to town, deciding which projects have merit and making a recommendation to the council, which has the final say on funding approval.

The group is made up of primarily business owners and specialists in the community such as committee chairman Dennis Lewis, president of Lewis Audio Video; Sheryl Kelsh, president and CEO of the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce; and Rob Felton, public information and communications director for George Fox University. The committee also includes City Councilor Patrick Johnson, along with Mayor Bob Andrews and City Manager Joe Hannan, both of whom are ex-officio, non-voting members.

The money at issue comes from the transient lodging tax, which is collected from local hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals. State law says that a portion of the revenue collected must be spent on local tourism development efforts. Locally that amount has grown into a substantial pool of money for three main reasons: the opening of the Allison Inn and Spa, the city's 2014 increase of its local lodging tax and a 2015 cap on funding to the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce, which previously received all the dedicated tourism funds from the lodging tax.

These factors created a new pot of unallocated money that must be spent on tourism promotion. In the 2016-2017 budget, about $220,000 is projected to be generated in that fund, and when combined with money left over from previous years that means there is projected to be nearly $370,000 available by the end of this budget year.

In a meeting last month, the committee fleshed out the details of its small grant program offering up to $20,000 for projects. At the March 1 first meeting, Rux said they received five applications requesting a total of about $26,900, though he expected one last application to come in by the final deadline at the end of that day. The committee will meet again March 15 to decide on its recommendation to the City Council on how small grants should be awarded.

First at issue for the committee at its March 1 meeting was looking at future budget projections and deciding whether it should hold back money this year to spend in the future. Rux explained that projections show less than $250,000 in total funds and just under $200,000 for the large grant programs.

While the committee can review budget priorities later, most members agreed that the $13,000 budgeted for marketing in future years would likely not be enough and suggested pushing that up to $43,000, which would come from the large-grant funds. This year, the committee has just shy of $81,000 assigned for marketing.

The committee also went through the large grant program guidelines, application, end report and contract, making tweaks from the small grant program that city staff will incorporate into the final documents. The discussions were partially informed by how Travel Oregon gives its grants.

Among the more substantial revisions, the committee changed the requirement for how much a recipient would have to match in city funds, lowering from $3 for each city dollar to a 1-1 in-kind match for nonprofits and governmental organizations, and a 1-1 cash match for businesses and for-profits.

In addition, the committee decided to set the minimum funding request at $10,001, making most projects in the future eligible for either the large grant or the small grant program.

Throughout the meeting, members acknowledged that this is the first year and they may have to adjust to program later once they have more experience.

After the meeting, Rux explained that city staff will formalize the adjustments made by the committee and present the final documents to the council for information only later this month. He expected to put out a solicitation for applicants for large grants by March 31, leaving the application window open for about three months.