Chamber officials say bed tax funds used on tourism

Chamber of Commerce officials assured Mayor Dan Bing they are spending motel tax revenue as required on tourism.

“We are doing many, many things associated with tourism,” Chamber President Susan Shank told Bing during Tuesday’s chamber board meeting.

Bing had been invited to the meeting after chamber members read newspaper stories about Village Council wanting the organization to give an accounting of how it is spending revenue generated by Lisbon’s 6 percent motel bed tax.

Adopted in the early 2000s after the Days Inn was built and the property was annexed into Lisbon, council agreed to give half the tax proceeds to the chamber, with the stipulation it be spent on tourism.

In recent years, the tax has begun to generate a substantial amount of money because of the shale boom under way in the region, resulting in a spike in occupancy. The motel tax raised $40,181 last year, with half going to the chamber. When some council members learned of this, they wondered how the chamber was spending the money.

Shank estimated 90 percent of all chamber spending is related to tourism, including holding the annual Johnny Appleseed Festival, which is attended by more than 10,000 people every September and serves as the organization’s chief fundraiser.

At least one council member disputed whether spending motel tax money on the two-day festival met the definition of promoting tourism, but Shank said that not only does the event attract thousands, many first-time festival-goers return to spend more time in Lisbon after being exposed to the village and liking what they see.

Chamber members said the monthly Concerts on the Square they host every summer also serve to attract visitors and generate commerce for local businesses, and the organization has also spent money to place advertisements in regional tourism publications.

For his part, Bing said council was simply “looking for accountability on how our money is being spent,” adding he believed there was often a fine line between what might be an acceptable expense. For example, he suggested the chamber would be justified in using some of its motel tax money to pay the wages of Director Marilyn McCullough to compensate her for the time she spends on tourism-related work, although that has never been done, nor are there any plans to do so.

“There’s no problem,” Bing assured the chamber. “They (council) just want some accountability.”

Chamber member Brad Forrider was glad to hear that because he was concerned there might be a rift after reading the news accounts.

The chamber decided to make council a member and put them on the mailing list for all official correspondence, including meeting minutes and financial reports.

“Thank you, and let’s keep the lines of communication open,” Shank told the mayor.

According to the chamber financial records, the organization has a balance of $23,921 in its tourism fund. At its February meeting, the board agreed to take $10,000 in tourism money and invest it with Edward Jones Financial, with Forrider abstaining from the vote since he works for Edward Jones.