Bed tax board recommends tourism funding

$48,000 to be spent with Yakima group

— The city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee is recommending the City Council dole out $82,103 in bed tax dollars for promoting the city.

But noticeably missing from the recommendation coming out of yesterday’s committee meeting is funding for the Sunnyside Community Float, Reach magazine, special event advertising through Daily Sun publications and funding for Northwest Nitro Nationals promotions.

Instead, the five-member committee voted to recommend the city hand over $48,602 to Yakima County Visitors and Convention Bureau.

After watching the recommendation process, Daily Sun Publisher Roger Harnack called it “flawed,” referring to the ethics of allowing a committee member to vote to line his own agency’s pockets while also opposing competitive proposals.

Harnack is referring to committee member Jared Yoakum’s vote to pad his own agency’s coffers and oppose funding for competitors. Yoakum is the marketing manager for the Yakima-based tourism bureau.

During voting on the recommendations, Yoakum declined to support a motion to reduce his agency’s funding by $5,000.

He then voted in favor of allocating $26,603 for his own agency’s marketing of Sunnyside.

He followed that up with an affirmative vote to give his agency another $22,000 for media buys, for a total of $48,603.

Following that, Yoakum seconded a motion to deny any tourism marketing funds to the local newspaper, which also publishes Lower Yakima Valley Reach Tourism and Newcomers Guide, the only tourism magazine to focus exclusively on the area from Prosser to Toppenish, among other publications promoting Sunnyside events.

The Daily Sun submitted a proposal totaling $13,194.

“At best, there is a conflict of interest,” Harnack said, noting committee member Yoakum effectively used his position to influence the outcome of financial votes that could affect his own salary and deny tax dollars to competitors.

“The City Council needs to change this incestuous process before continuing,” Harnack said.

The committee is recommending some money be spent with local organizations.

Under the recommendations being forwarded to the City Council, Sort for the Cause could receive $4,000, Sunshine Days Parade $2,500, Jerry Taylor Memorial Plaza $17,000 and the Peterson Cup at Dry Creek Recreation Area $10,000.

Bed tax dollars are collected from overnight guests at hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, RV parks, private campgrounds and other accommodations.

The funds may be used only for tourism-related advertising and marketing, operations and capital funding of tourism-related, publicly owned facilities, or tourism-related facilities operated by a nonprofit organization.

The City Council is expected to consider the recommendations at its meeting next Monday.

Under state statutes, the council can only vote to approve or reject the recommended expenditures — it is not allowed to provide an alternative funding level.

If the council rejects the recommendations, the bed-tax board will be required to reconvene and come up with new recommendations for the council to review at a future meeting.

Harnack plans to speak to the council, at the very least, about conflicts of interest.


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