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Groups must now account for Washington County hotel-motel tax fund grants

Reports will include breakdown of expenses, an attendance count, estimate of hotel and motel stays purchased as result of the event or project, and a description of the project's impact

March 27, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Organizations that receive grants from the county’s hotel-motel tax fund will now have to report how the money was used and what impact it had on the local economy and community, the Washington County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday.

The reports are part of a new process being imposed for organizations requesting money from the hotel-motel tax fund, which comes from the county’s 6 percent tax on lodging rentals.

Of the $6 collected on a $100 hotel room stay, the county gives $3 to the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, $1 to municipalities and $2 to a fund used to make grants for projects related to tourism, economic development, culture or recreation, such as the National Pike Festival Wagon Train and JFK 50 Ultramarathon, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

In October, the commissioners agreed that applications for those grant funds should be processed by a new Office of Community Grant Management, formerly the Gaming Office.

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That office will review applications and forward its recommendations to the county administrator for approval if the grant is $25,000 or less, or to the commissioners for approval if the grant is for more than $25,000, said James B. Hovis, director of community grant management.

Previously, all hotel-motel fund requests had to go before the commissioners. Some applicants filled out an application, while others made requests at meetings that were granted on the spot.

Hovis reported to the commissioners Tuesday on a revised application and guidelines developed by his office along with the new follow-up report.

The funding application asks for information, including the justification for the project, expected attendance, anticipated effect on area hotel occupancies and other funding sources.

“We intentionally made (the application process) extremely user-friendly, with an emphasis on promptness of processing the application,” Hovis said.

The report to be submitted within 60 days after the project includes a breakdown of expenses, an attendance count, estimate of hotel and motel stays purchased as result of the event or project, and a description of the project’s impact on the community, local economy and residents.

“That report will provide a level of accountability for the funding received,” Hovis said.

The office will also use the information to evaluate future requests to fund similar events, he said.

The convention and visitors bureau, municipalities and economic development projects will not need to go through the community grant management application process to receive hotel-motel funds, he said.

Although smaller grants may be approved without going to the five commissioners for a vote, no more than 30 percent of the fund may be awarded that way, Murray said.

Under program guidelines, priority will be given to projects that generate overnight stays in the county; encourage support of county businesses, restaurants and attractions; reach a broad segment of the community; seek multiple sources of support; yield benefits to the community; promote cooperation to reduce costs; and enhance or improve the community.

Ineligible requests include funding for individuals, normal and routine operating and administrative expenses, organizations that support political candidates or exist primarily to influence legislation, for-profit ventures, endowments and organizations with budget deficits, the guidelines said.

The new procedures took effect immediately upon the commissioners’ consensus Tuesday, Hovis said.

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