Members of the Board of Supervisors’ finance committee expressed some skepticism—and bafflement—about the few applications they received for tourism grant funding at their meeting Tuesday.
The county annually writes grants from a portion of the revenues from the transient occupancy tax, a 7 percent tax on stays in guest accommodations like hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments. Of that 7-cent tax, 3 cents are reserved for funding initiatives related to promoting and supporting tourism in the county.
Minus a required reserve, the county has $1.36 million available in that fund; up to half can be used for grants, meaning the county had nearly $680,000 to give this year. The county only received three grant applications, which together add up to only $25,000.
“I think this is one of those things where we just kind of started the process, so it’s new,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). This is only the second year the county is using a revised process for evaluating the tourism tax grant applications.
Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) said he was “baffled” that the county only got three applications, “and we’re actually trying to give away money for good causes.”
Department of Management and Budget Director Erin McLellan said county staff members are working together with Visit Loudoun, which is also funded largely by tourism tax revenues, to get the word out about the grants.
Finance Committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) also expressed skepticism that all of the applications are “in the spirit” of the tourism tax grant.
“I’m just going to be blunt—it’s nothing against the groups that were recommended for funding, but I’m having a hard time myself seeing how some of these groups really align with the TOT funding policy,” Letourneau said.
McLellan said a staff committee is working on what sort of information the county needs to collect from applicants, including what sort of information those applicants need to be collecting from their events’ attendees to verify that they are in fact attracting visitors from outside Loudoun.
The Friends of Leesburg Public Art requested $5,000 for “Arts in the Alley,” an annual event that involves setting up a number of booths, displays and performances in downtown Leesburg. The Arc of Loudoun at Paxton Campus requested $10,000 to support its popular Shocktober haunted house in October. And the Aldie Heritage Association requested $10,000 for the annual Aldie Harvest Festival, which was last year renamed the Aldie Harvest, Wine and Food Festival.
With more money available than requests to fill, county staff recommended fully funding all three requests.
The finance committee recommended the board fulfill that recommendation, and directed county staff members to bring the committee a report on the criteria for those applications before the next round of grants. The committee voted 3-1-1, with Letourneau abstaining and Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) absent.