The Board of Supervisors has approved only $25,000 in tourism grants—because of a paucity of grant applications.
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 had $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. Supervisors voted to fund all three of those requests in their full amount.
Supervisors have expressed surprise and concern about the small number of applications the county received.
“We’ve heard from organizations who have said that they were not aware of this grant process,” said Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “…They didn’t apply for it because they didn’t know.”
Director of Management and Budget Erin McLellan said the county used many of the same channels it uses to communicate about its larger, more general nonprofit grant funding process, and said the issue may be in part the relative newness of the county’s tourism grant process.
“This is the second year that we’ve done the program, so we are still trying to figure out how to reach this audience,” McLellan said.
“These organizations have known about this in previous years,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge). “I would think they would set a reminder on their calendar and take a little bit of self responsibility in this as well.”
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.
Supervisors Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) voted against the grants. Letourneau said his vote against is because he didn’t believe all of those programs match the spirit and intent of the tourism grant.
“I mean absolutely no disrespect to any the organizations getting funding, but if you’re telling me that an Arts in the Alley event for $5,000 is going to generate tourism revenue and increase occupancy at lodging properties in Loudoun County, then I have a bridge across the Potomac I want to sell you,” Letourneau said.