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Lodging tax committee recommends funding Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce for rest of year

Sunnyside Lodging Tax Advisory Committee member Tom Denlea makes notes as he reviews a request from the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce for more funding this year. The chamber received partial funding earlier in the year and the request was for the remainder of funds the chamber originally requested.

Photo by Laura Gjovaag.
Sunnyside Lodging Tax Advisory Committee member Tom Denlea makes notes as he reviews a request from the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce for more funding this year. The chamber received partial funding earlier in the year and the request was for the remainder of funds the chamber originally requested.

by Laura Gjovaag

After considerable discussion, a request by the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce for the remainder of its originally requested funds for this year was approved by the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee.

The committee voted 4-0 to recommend to the Sunnyside City Council approval of the final $7,000. The vote came after a sometimes energetic discussion of the purpose of the chamber and how it can more effectively fill its role as a driver for tourism in the city.

By the end of the meeting, the committee members and Chamber Executive Director Pam Turner appeared to be on the same page as to the future of the chamber in regards to lodging tax funds. But the meeting started with fundamental disagreements about the how the chamber functions.

The meeting was called in order to discuss the funding originally requested by the chamber. In January the council approved $38,000 of the chamber’s original $45,000 request, asking that the chamber return in June with evidence to show that it is bringing tourists to the town, at which time further funding would be considered.

Committee member Tom Denlea said he doesn’t want to defund the chamber, but said more detailed accounting of the chamber’s work is needed.

Committee member and Chamber President Teri Alvarez-Ziegler said the chamber is now tracking how much time Turner spends on tourism activities.

Turner said her work as the chamber director and as someone who promotes tourism are intertwined, noting that when she answers the phone, the question might be a request for a referral to a business.

“It all interlaces and interacts together,” she said. “There isn’t just the chamber, there isn’t just tourism. We’re working on everything at the same time.”

Denlea disagreed with Turner, saying he sees the roles as distinct.

“The key here is a difference in philosophy,” he said. “I do not believe the chamber and tourism are the same thing.”

He recommended that Turner work more closely with local hotels on tourism ideas and suggested finding a way to separate the tourism role from other work of the chamber.

“You are very good at what you do,” he said. “You are an excellent organizer. We need you in that role. The LTAC funds are just for tourism. If anyone else needs your time, they need to fund it.”

Committee chair Francisco Guerrero suggested that the chamber hire someone else to do the chamber work to let Turner focus on events and tourism.

Alvarez-Ziegler cautioned that while the chamber will work to that end, the process may take some time.

“Give it another year,” she said. “We’re revamping it now, change doesn’t happen overnight.”

Committee member Martin Beeler said he was pleased with the information that Turner provided at the meeting about its current activities, and agreed that the chamber may need more time to adjust.

He also said he needs more evidence that the chamber is sending business his way and suggested offering a chamber discount so people visiting his RV park will be more likely to report that they heard about his business from the chamber.

Turner was open to the idea. She also listened to Denlea’s suggestions on how to utilize the chamber more effectively. Denlea used tourism activities in Union Gap and Prosser as examples. The pair decided to meet again to further discuss the issue.

The funding request will go before council at its Monday, July 28, meeting.

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