In the two years since the accommodation tax was enacted in 2012, the City of Brandon amassed $1.27 million as of earlier this summer. But of that, only $450,900 has been granted to local organizations to help them host events — basically a third of what has been collected.
Last Monday, council members who were part of a review committee into the tax recommended that event facilities, heritage sites and cultural projects should also be eligible to apply for capital grants, even if the request isn’t tied to a specific event, as part of a second funding stream under the accommodation tax fund.
The first stream of capital funding would be the current event-specific stream, while the second stream would remove the event-specific criteria and be based on a variety of evaluations, such as other government funding, private fundraising and the overall benefit to tourism and event-hosting potential for Brandon.
There would be a limitation for any group applying into the fund of $200,000 per year "so that certain entities or projects would not monopolize the entirety of the funding component of the accommodations tax," said Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond), who was part of the committee.
When the committee’s report was tabled on Monday, not all councillors were on board with the idea, and a lengthy debate ensued. And from the tone and tenor of some of the comments, it seems that not all councillors seem to agree on the original intentions of the hotel tax.
"It almost seems like, we have the money in the bank, so let’s spend it," Coun. John LoRegio (Meadows) said in response to the report.
The initial idea for having the accommodation tax was to provide a funding stream to support event acquisition, event retention and/or capital repairs and upgrade initiatives that would help bring events to the city of Brandon.
Montague is correct when he told LoRegio that the funds collected by the hotel tax were meant to help improve Brandon’s event-hosting capabilities, not sit in a bank account somewhere collecting dust. This was a way to tap a very local resource that would eventually give local businesses a long-term benefit.
Not only would this second proposed stream provide a further use for the unused tax dollars, but it would provide some much-needed capital investment into local facilities and amenities that do host events on a regular or semi-regular basis.
A great example is the ailing stage located on the Keystone Centre grounds that is in need of replacement. Sure, $200,000 is hardly going to cover the costs of the many renovations needed on the grounds, and of course there are other more pressing concerns for the facility that require attention.
But it’s another revenue stream that can be looked into.
Currently, the goal is for administration is to bring back the recommendations to council as an amendment to the accommodations tax bylaw at the Oct. 6 council meeting. We suggest that council move forward with the committee’s recommendations.