Council votes to try BTAC changes

Published on Thu, Mar 28, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Council votes to try BTAC changes

By Meg Olson

Exhausted into unanimity, Blaine city council approved staff recommended changes to the Blaine Tourism Advisory Commission (BTAC), turning it from a granting commission to an advisory committee.

�It seems like we�re playing games,� said Marsha Hawkins at the March 25 city council meeting, after almost two hours of sometimes acrimonious public testimony and half-hearted proposals from council members to tweak city manager Gary Tomsic�s new vision for BTAC. �If it�s not working in six months we can change it.�

The changes to BTAC take away the committee�s role distributing hotel/motel tax funds and give that role to city staff. Instead, the committee would focus on carrying out the newly developed city tourism plan, which recommends channeling more of the dollars into tourism infrastructure, like a boardwalk, and less into events. Membership of the group would also see some minor changes, with an additional at-large member and non-voting members representing the Birch Bay chamber and the Bellingham convention and visitors bureau. The chamber and the local lodging industry will retain two seats each and the committee will be chaired by a member of city council.

�We�re not objecting to much of what you�re saying you want to do,� said John Choulochas, president of the Pacific Arts Foundation. �What we�re objecting to is that we weren�t asked.�

Cholouchas and Christina Alexander, president of the U.S./Canada Peace Anniversary group, spoke to council as representatives of groups that have received hotel/motel tax funding for their events. Alexander felt local groups that promote events not only should have been consulted in drafting the changes, but should also have been given a seat on the committee. �It would be nice if our organizations, with what we bring to the community, could have a seat.�

�How many local tourist-related groups are there?� asked council member John Liebert. �If they�re all on the board they�ll be coming out of the woodwork and we�d really have bickering. This new structure takes the bickering over dollars away.�

Alexander complained that in the past, members of BTAC were also members of organizations seeking funds. �If you�re going to have a board, make it a fair board,� she said, suggesting the city follow state guidelines for tourism commissions in large cities, which match the number of board members representing lodging businesses that collect the tax with representatives from the groups that are awarded the funds. She complained that, at one of her grant presentations to BTAC, �six of the people deciding who got funding were applying for funding themselves.�

�If you want to know what the BTAC was like, this is it: who said what, who funded what,� Tomsic said. �What is being suggested here takes it out of the realm of that occurring. We will put together a budget, allocate hotel/motel funds, work with groups seeking funding and present recommendations to council.� BTAC member Wayne Carpenter said he supported the changes. �Everyone on BTAC was trying to do the best they could but there was frustration because of all the nagging and pulling,� he said. The committee has not met in four months after a rash of resignations.

Carpenter suggested the committee size be cut down from seven to five members to add flexibility to the group and that non-voting members from outside Blaine be eliminated. �In this healing period we need to focus here locally,� he said.

While council members Bonnie Onyon and Liebert expressed interest in Carpenter�s proposals, they couldn�t formulate amendments their peers would support.

�We�ve galloped all over this battleground,� agreed Ken Ely, who represented city council as chairman of the BTAC committee. �It�s time for a change. This is a good change and now it�s time to vote.�

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