Newport City Councilors learned today that their plans to draw down a million dollar fund, aimed originally at building a new city convention center (which is not being built), still has enough money in it to make good on promises to fund a few more projects as agreed to by the city council – projects that boost tourism and general economic development.
Due to what has been referred to as minor irregularities in tracking room tax revenues as they’re spent on general city projects, as opposed to tourism programs, it created some uncertainty as to how much money is still available for the final distribution of what’s left of that million dollar fund. Those projects include further renovation to Newport’s Performing Arts Center, the Sea Lion Dock replacement and funds toward a project contemplated by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) to be located in the Coho – Brandt neighborhood, west of Toby Murry Motors at South Beach.
During an hour long discussion Tuesday afternoon, Interim City Finance Director Bob Gazewood showed how room tax funds, some going to city operations, others going to tourism promotion and facilities, were co-mingled. Gazewood said all the money is there. It’s just not all in the right spreadsheet columns. When asked by a councilor “how did this happen?” Gazewood said it was done last year with a different city manager and a different finance director. “You’ll have to ask them,” Gazewood remarked.
City Manager Spencer Nebel told council that armed with the precise tracking of those funds by Gazewood, city staff will report back and show the council that all of the funds are going into all the right columns, and shall remain that way from here on. Gazewood said although there had been some question whether the funds might have been mistakenly spent on the wrong things, the council has the flexibility to realign those funds to ensure that state law requirements that room taxes are spent 54% for general government and 46 for tourist programs, balance out correctly by the time Newport’s fiscal year books are closed on June 30th later this year.
Gazewood also emphasized that $250,000 for further renovations to the Newport Performing Arts Center, $200,000 toward OMSI’s new facility at South Beach and the long awaited completion of a reconstructed Sea Lion Dock on the Bayfront, for $50,000, are all safe and ready to be allocated when the organizations behind those projects are ready to use them.