What will happen to the TLT?

Visit Tillamook CoastBy Chelsea Yarnell

The first round of Transient Lodging Tax grants(TLT) pleased many, but several others were left dissatisfied with the project selection.
So, the Tillamook County Commissioners have proposed to examine the process.  The first of several workshops was held on Nov. 4 to gather input on what exactly that new direction should be.
Commissioner Bill Baertlein drafted a proposal that would change several aspects of the TLT.
The proposal includes:
1. Terminating the agreement with the Economic Development Council as of July 1
2. Making the TLT a function of County government
3. Setting up a new not-for-profit for advertising and promotion only
4. Remaining funds would go to infrastructure improvements within Tillamook County. The first years the priority would be visitor safety and comfort
Baertlein suggests that the new not-for-profit would have a board comprised of advertising, promotion and tourist related business.
“Those who are in the tourist industry should be on the board…because EDC is not really an advertising board,” Baertlein said at the beginning of the meeting.
Baertlein’s proposal also states the County would execute a five year agreement with the not-for profit to provide advertising and promotion for Tillamook County and set some benchmarks to be achieved.
The current agreement for the TLT called for a review in December 2016.
“EDC has not deliberated at all,” EDC Chair Michele Bradley told the Commissioners. “We knew this meeting was coming up and we wanted to see [how this went] before we put it on or agenda.”
EDC Vice-Chair Doug Olson asked the commissioners what the EDC had done wrong for the TLT to be taken away from their organization.
“There’s some stress within EDC from the members,” Commissioner Tim Josi responded. “They’re spending most of their time talking about this program and tourism. Volunteers are saying, ‘This isn’t why I’m volunteering my time.’”
To which Olson responded, “I can’t see how one can separated tourism from Economic Development. I fear for Tillamook County if this goes with another organization, it will attract more tourists but not economic development.”
Josi stressed that it the EDC has not done anything wrong, but the Commissioners are simply looking at how to make the TLT process better.
Since the first round of grant money went out, the Commissioners heard from unhappy people who were not selected as recipients.
Commissioner Labhart chose to clear the air on the topic.
“Not everybody is going to get funded every time…you shouldn’t be upset by that. That’s human nature; that’s how the grant process works.”
Several audience members voiced their opinion on the allocation of the funds.
Heather Crawford of Oceanside Beach Rentals expressed the need for more promotion of the area.
“This money you’re trying to figure out what to do with, comes from our hard work,” Crawford said. Crawford also reported that since the implementation of the TLT, she has seen a 15 percent decrease in business from salespeople stopping in the area.
“You should cover the cost of getting people here,” Crawsford said.
Mary Jones of Nestucca Ridge Development would also like the County to reexamine where they award grants.
“There’s nothing that a group of people with opposing interests could come up with something fair,” Jones said.
Instead of the current ranking process, Jones suggests that money be given back to communities proportionately to what they contribute to the TLT.
“It wouldn’t be this lobbying and bullying to get funds.”
Marcus Hinz is in favor of another group taking over the TLT fund, but isn’t sure if the County is right for the job.
“There needs to be a [group] with laser focus using this money, not a committee within a larger organization.”
To close the meeting, Devlin stated that what drew her to the Tourism Director position in Tillamook was the partnership with EDC.
“I’m a strong believer that tourism is economic development. Being a part of the EDC…is a way for tourism to be a part of a County discussion.”
Devlin fears that creating a not-for-profit entity so quickly would lose the citizen voice that is now currently active in the process.
Devlin and her team are currently working to implement new programs including one that would aid struggling business owners.
“I would like to not rush [a change] when we have so many programs starting up here.”
A second TLT workshop will be scheduled within a month’s time.