Wasatch County Tax Advisory Board Criticized For Grant Allocation Decisions

Aug 8, 2018

 Decisions made by the Wasatch County Transient Tax Advisory Board have come under fire by a Heber Valley Business owner, Lynn David.  In a Salt Lake Tribune article, he claims the Board acted unethically in distributing grant money to several Heber Valley businesses.  Carolyn Murray has this:

Lynn David, owner of the Hiking Inn, applied for 3600 dollars through the Heber Valley Transient Room Tax grant program. He was awarded 500 dollars which he declined, calling it a pittance. David told KPCW he was not available for an interview until later this month due to travel. 

  The County Transient Room Tax Advisory Board was allocated 50 thousand dollars by the County Council this year to distribute to organizations that promote tourism in the Heber Valley. Director of the Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce, Ryan Starks declined to comment on Lynn David’s reasons for turning down the 500 dollars but denies his claims that the board members were favoring their own interests.

  “Boards and committees like this exist all over the state.  This particular board values ethics and did everything it could, given the law that governs the board.  They did everything that they could to maintain integrity and to not do any special deals. Any appearance of shady dealings is not true and I personally can vouch that even though I am not on the board, I sat in on the meetings, as an advisor.  I know there were no shady dealings going on. It was a very clear, very transparent decision-making process.”

   Starks says the board consists of representatives from the local tourism industry.

  “The TAB’s purpose then is to advise legislative county leaders on the best use of Transient Room Tax. This board should be made up of local tourism representatives, hotel partners, outfitters, venues…representatives from those tourism destinations.”

     The five-member board consists of representatives from State Parks Golf, Soldier Hollow and the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, the Best Western Inn Hotel, the Wasatch County Events Complex and Mountain Valley RV Resort.   Starks says they had 50 thousand dollars to distribute with over 150 thousand dollars in requests. 

  “The Board was very upfront with each of the applicants and the board would focus on the best return on investment. The County Council has indicated they would like to see this money spent outside of Wasatch County in order to attract the greatest potential number of overnight visitors to the Heber Valley. So, the criteria is the money has to be spent out of the county, the money has to be matched on a dollar to dollar basis and there has to be a great return on the investment in the form of overnight stays in the Heber Valley.”  

 Three organizations with sitting Board members received grant money totaling 26 thousand dollars.   State Parks Golf received 3100 dollars to promote Golf in the Heber Valley. Mountain Valley RV Resort received 6500 dollars for trade show promotion efforts. Soldier Hollow received 10 thousand dollars for the Sheep Dog Classic Championship and 2000 dollars for the Nordic Center. The County Council makes grant funding decisions based on recommendations from the Board.  Wasatch County Manager, Mike Davis isn’t involved in decisions made by the Advisory Board, but he says they’re planning changes to the makeup of the Board.

 “ I do know that they’ve been working on changing the Tax Advisory Board.  They want to put more members on it. I think they were looking at other entities in the area.  I think they were looking at Zermatt and Homestead, the Railroad, St. Regis, Deer Valley to try to get more entities on it. But, all those entities by statute, can apply for money. They just have to recuse themselves.” 

 The Advisory Board received 29 applications and awarded money for 24 projects ranging from 500 to 10 thousand dollars.