What Happened to the Money?
Recently several numbers were circulated with the suggestion that funds from the Klickitat County and City of Goldendale Lodging Tax programs were mishandled by the Greater Goldendale Area (GGA) Chamber of Commerce over the past three years. This has introduced questions about unused funds and the accountability of the Chamber along with the records of the City. So, what happened?
Let’s start with 2020. THE 2020.
The GGA Chamber of Commerce had submitted their application to the City for the Lodging Tax funds at the end of 2019. They began the year with community tourism and event planning efforts and then a global pandemic struck closing everything. However, the Chamber did not stop. They became an information partner with the local media, Small Business Development Center, the City of Goldendale, Klickitat County, and State Agencies. Time was spent collaborating with these information partners. Emails were continually distributed to the Chamber member and community email lists. Countless communications were shared via Facebook in community groups, forums, and message boards. These communications also included continued promotion of the Goldendale and Central Klickitat County areas from Lyle to Bickleton through their website, print media, and other resources. The staff and voluntary Board of Directors continued their work as well.
Here it is important to note a few key facts about the Lodging Tax programs.
First, these are reimbursement programs. A contractor must identify how they plan to use the funds within the application process in the prior year. Then the funds are only to be used for purposes specified in RCW 67.28.1816. The contractor then completes their obligation and submits their receipts for reimbursement. Money is not received in advance. In addition, it is a use it or lose it type of fund and any funds not reimbursed under the annual contract stay with the City or County. Funds are not carried over year-to-year. So, in 2020, there were $4275 of funds that the Greater Goldendale Area Chamber of Commerce did not use from the City of Goldendale. The Chamber had had a major adjustment in their 2020 plan as they didn’t hold the Goldendale Home & Garden Show or any other signature events during the year. While they kept their community and tourism efforts going, there were some functions of the Visitor Information Center that simply could not happen.
2021 began with changes in regulations and tourism began to start up again.
For the Chamber, the year began with a transition in the staff resulting in the voluntary Board of Directors running the programs and operations of the Chamber from January through to the middle of the year when Nicole Lundin, formerly a marketing consultant at the Chamber, was hired as the Executive Director. During these months, then President Diana Adams and Lundin completed countless hours of service along with the other Directors. The applications for Lodging Tax for 2021 had been submitted in 2020 with the hope of a return to regular operations. However, during that year national and state regulations continued to affect the Chamber’s planning and programs resulting in the eventual cancellation of the Goldendale Home & Garden Show and other programming for a second year. The work continued as best it could with the Visitor Information Center reopening to the public in April of 2021. The Chamber coordinated vendors for Community Days, developed a new database driven website featuring a tourism focus as its primary purpose, and other marketing efforts promoting the area continued.
In the summer of 2021, something amazing began happening when a local group of artists, and Chamber board members took a walk down Main Street and imagined what could happen if there were to be a public art installation in downtown Goldendale. The potential project was presented to the Board of Directors, and they decided to take it on as the beginnings of a community revitalization effort. The project was to start at the four corners of Main Street and Columbus, the heart of Goldendale, becoming known officially as Art at the Heart of Goldendale. Funding was anticipated to be an issue because this effort did not fall under the Lodging Tax parameters but through donations from businesses and the community, they were able to begin planning the first part of the project.
By early fall, the Chamber recognized that the regular programs that would normally utilize the funds available through the Lodging Tax grants were not going to be able to be used as planned. They approached the City and County with this information and asked that the funds be repurposed through the economic development program as a proof of concept for the revitalization of downtown Goldendale. Both the City of Goldendale and Klickitat County agreed to the change in funding, and each awarded the Chamber $7,500 in seed money from Economic Development funds for a total of $15,000. The City of Goldendale voted and approved an ordinance for this purpose along with the County Commissioners. Thus, the Chamber’s full expenses in 2021 totaled $95,751, with the City Lodging Tax reimbursing $23,499 of the tourism related costs and $7,500 in Economic Development funds by ordinance. The remaining lodging tax of $7,500 unused by the Chamber was retained by the city and went on to support other events/organizations like the Brighter Goldendale Christmas Committee. Many events/organizations were affected that year and unable to utilize their budgeted amounts. However, the total amount of unused City Lodging Tax dollars for 2021 was $400. So, it could be said the Chamber and City completely utilized granted funds for tourism while also innovating a revitalization kick starter for the community.
Looking at the scope of the activities and efforts made by the GGA Chamber of Commerce one might begin to wonder why tourism is such a big deal?
- What does it really do for the community?
- Why would the City or County want to encourage this type of industry in the area?
A good place to start is the Lodging Tax Fund. The fund is generated by heads in beds. Hotels, motels, RV Parks and other similar businesses collect the lodging tax throughout the year. The funds are then allocated back to the areas they were generated to be used to invest in further activities and efforts that continue to bring more heads in beds. The County has a Lodging Tax Advisory Board that meets each year with representatives from the hotel/motel et al group, recipients of the funds, and the Klickitat County Economic Development Department. They review the applications and allocate the funds. A recipient of the lodging tax can sit on the advisory board but cannot directly vote for themselves. The City Council members form a review committee and complete a similar allocation process. This year the applications and requests for both lodging tax funds far exceeded what was available and so allocations were adjusted and prioritized through careful consideration for what would be the best investment in bringing the heads to the beds by the advisory board and committees.
Besides lodging revenue, tourism creates a real effect a community by creating a demand for service offerings. Existing businesses can fill these needs and provide expanded offerings for the out-of-town guests that also expand the goods and services for locals. These areas add amenities to the community such as entertainment venues, museums, transportation services, healthcare facilities and more. It also opens the possibilities for new entrepreneurship because of increased needs and revenues available in the community. Job opportunities grow in industries like hospitality, food service, and retail which creates more revenue in the community. Local government resources grow enabling improvements in the infrastructure like roads and water/sewer systems. These and other improvements benefit residents throughout all other economic levels.
Looking at attraction impact, let’s take the recently renovated Goldendale Observatory. This community asset receives 30,000 - 40,000 visitors annually. It is the only attraction in Goldendale that is open year around and is like no other attraction anywhere in the area. For math’s sake, let’s look at a conservative estimate and say 30,000 visitors came to the Goldendale Observatory last year. When they stopped into a local restaurant for a meal and spent $15, that translated to $450,000 of external revenue. If they added gas at $60, then $1,800,000 per year. If the visitor purchases $100 in local merchandise, that is $3,000,000 in revenues that then circulate in the local economy. Visitors to the Goldendale Observatory with just these three purchase areas potentially contribute $5,250,000 in revenue for the community and that doesn’t even include what their lodging expense was for this evening-based attraction.
What does the Greater Goldendale Area Chamber of Commerce really do for businesses?
- For the community?
- What happened to the money?
The resounding answer is that the Chamber’s volunteers and businesses are working to make a difference in the economic health of the community through revitalization, tourism marketing, and partnerships with the County and the City. The money from the Lodging Tax is used to generate more visitors through investing in facilities, programs, and projects that help grow tourism following state guidelines. Tourism matters because it brings external dollars into the community which then circulate benefitting all levels of the local economy. Communities that have a healthy influx of funds have more opportunities to enhance their offerings and amenities for both future tourism and their own use. The cycle is either growing or declining and can be planned for. So, if you are a business or member of the community and would like to add your voice to these efforts, the Greater Goldendale Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Community Business Workshop on February 9th at the Goldendale Grange Hall at 6:00 p.m. For more information you can visit goldendalechamber.org or call 509-773-3400.