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Lawmakers merge two county boards

Sun Advocate publisher

For over a decade Carbon County has been using money generated from a special tax on restaurants and lodging facilities to fund various projects and venues across the county related to the tourism industry. The funding has been largely reviewed and approved by the county commission, but only before it was run through two boards that existed to review applications for the funds.

Those two entities have been the Restaurant Tax board and the Carbon County Travel Bureau board.

However, upon action of the Carbon County commission last month, those boards will no longer exist. The dissolved panel will be replaced by the Tourism Tax Advisory Board that will make recommendations to the commission.

Letters went out to board members from both boards last week letting them know about the change and the county has also requested that those that would like to, may reapply for a position on the new board.

Over the years, there has been some controversy over these boards, particularly questions concerning the Restaurant Tax board. When it was first organized, it recommended funds to be used for many kinds of projects, some brick and mortar while others were event oriented. But in that time the aims of that board seemed to change and it became a board that looked for hard fixed projects, rather than fund events oriented venues.

In addition it became much harder to attract and keep board members once it was established two years ago that, since the board was dealing with public money, the deliberations concerning various proposals had to be open to the public and the press. This worried boardmembers concerned that the discussions could cause a loss of business for their private enterprises from people whose projects were rejected.

The travel bureau board has primarily dealt with the money from the transient room tax. The members evaluated whether a project requesting money would benefit the tourism industry in the county and appropriated funding based on the deliberations.

In the last few years, the travel bureau board has also been getting money directly from the county commission that has come from the restaurant tax as well.

With the missions of the two panels getting closer to each other, the commission decided that one board should handle all the funding requests that come from county residents and project directors.

"It makes sense to have one board handling all of this," said Carbon Commissioner Mike Milovich on Wednesday during a telephone interview. "I think with the way we want to set it up the new board will have some good cross representation on it. This will put everything under one roof."

Milovich also indicated that a new board set up to report recommendations to the commission will fit more in with state law as it pertains to these kinds of boards.

"This is an attempt to clean up this situation and to do it right," said Milovich. "According to our lawyers, we have been a bit outside the intent of the law so we haven't been as compliant as we should be. This will give the commission the final say on any money given to those requesting it."

The letter from Carbon's lawmakers pointed out that "dissolving the travel bureau board as well as the restaurant tax advisory board to make recommendations to the commission was deemed to be the most appropriate choice."

Utah law requires that tax advisory boards be composed of at least five members. In addition, the majority of the boardmembers must be employees of businesses that are subject to the tax, primarily the restaurant and lodging industries.

The remaining members may come from various organizations that are related in some way to tourism, recreation or travel.

While the current members may apply to be on the new board, the commission is also opening up the application process to residents of the county who might wish to serve, providing they have some kind of tie to the tourism, lodging or restaurant industry.

Interested Carbon County residents may obtain board applications by contacting the commission secretary at 636-3226.

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