The county finance committee has recommended a systematic approach to making grants from transient occupancy tax revenues despite some lingering concerns over conflicts of interest.
The county government collects a 7 percent tax on most hotel, motel, and bed-and-breakfast stays in the county. Of that, 3 percent is designated for tourism and tourism marketing, and 75 percent goes to Visit Loudoun, the county’s visitors’ bureau.
If adopted, under the new process, applications for grants would be filed on the same schedule as non-profit grants, and would be evaluated by a panel of experts—including county staff and representatives from Visit Loudoun. Supervisors will make the final decision on allocating grants.
“Is it a little bit problematic to have Visit Loudoun—and they certainly have lots of expertise—on the panel evaluating the other sources of funding?” asked finance committee chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “Because I can think of at least one circumstance where they were the prime sponsor of an initiative outside their budget that they were requesting TOT funds for.”
Visit Loudoun in the past has requested and received $200,000 to help establish Epicurience, as well as $50,000 each year for sports tournament grants, all beyond their contractually established annual funding.
Letourneau said he wants to avoid any future perceptions of conflicts of interest by judges on the panel of experts.
“I would say the case for having them involved in this process would be that they are the keeper of the tourism strategy,” said Department of Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer. “So we would want to make sure that at least their perspective was heard when considering any grants that would actually tie into the strategy and move the TOT needle for us.”
Previously, supervisors have allocated that funding on a case-by-case basis.
Under the county’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, that would leave just under $1 million available for grant funding of an expected $8.5 million in tourism tax revenues. The other 4 percent of tax is divided evenly between the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the county general fund.
Despite those concerns, the finance committee recommended the panel of experts system 4-0-1, Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) absent.