WELLSBORO - Room tax money gathered in Tioga County once went into a fund formerly known as the Tioga County Marketing Initiative Grant.
The money was distributed by the Tioga County Visitor's Bureau to businesses or nonprofit festival organizations each year.
Now, the program has been changed in two ways.
The name has been changed to the Tioga County Sponsorship Award, and with the change, the decision was made to award monies only to nonprofit organizations conducting festivals or events that demonstrate the promotion of history, heritage or uniqueness of Tioga County to further promote tourism and overnight visits.
The previous grant program made money available for profit-driven and nonprofit entities to create programs in order to increase overnight visits to the county.
The Tioga County Marketing Initiative Committee made the change last month, said visitor's bureau director Sandi Spencer.
It can be spent on promotional or operational expenses, she added.
"Every year there are great suggestions from membership and we try to make it the best of everything that is submitted to us," Spencer said.
With fewer applications for funding because of what Spencer called a "cumbersome" application process for both applicants and the visitor's bureau, the committee decided a change had to be made, she added.
"Because the visitor's bureau is also accountable for these funds, we have make sure the money is spent the way they say they are going to spend it so the grant process was very cumbersome," she said, taking a "large chunk" of time to fill out applications on both sides.
"For people who are working on a very limited budget, they don't have that kind of time. Now the time is slashed in half, the process is a lot more friendly and equitable," Spencer said.
"Now, events organizers can actually use the money for fireworks or whatever they want to use it for."
Only 17 out of the 67 Pennsylvania counties offer a granting program using funds from the room tax, according to Spencer.
Though it is a state tax, the money is reserved for the counties in which it is collected, and the county treasurers department takes 2 percent off the top and then the rest comes to the state authorized tourist promotion agency, which in this case is the visitor's bureau. "We put that money into a separate account and we take 10 percent to fund the program and the remainder goes to operate the bureau and its projects, which must be tourism relation, promotional or operational," Spencer said.
Spencer added that the visitor's bureau must be accountable to the state and is audited each year.
"We are pleased with this sponsorship program as it is fair, simple and will benefit all of Tioga County," said Erick Coolidge, Tioga County Commissioner chairperson.
According to Coolidge, the collection of a 3 percent room tax is a result of Tioga County Ordinance No. 2001-01, Room Tax Rental Excise Tax and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Act 142.
"To date, a total of $128,836.16 has been awarded with $31,455.52 available funds in last year's grant round," he added.
According to new guidelines set forth by the committee, each year's sponsorship amount may vary and will be prorated depending on the amount available with limits of up to $1,000 for a single day event, up to $3,000 for a two day or more event, and up to $5,000 for multiple events by the same organization.
Sponsorships will be awarded on a 12-month cycle at the first Tioga County Commissioners meeting in February.
Sponsorship applications will be released by the Tioga County Visitors Bureau beginning Oct. 31 of each year and must be postmarked by Dec. 31.
Although for-profit businesses are not eligible to receive monies, they are encouraged to partner with sponsorship recipients in offering promotions, discounts, and/or packages.
All festivals will be promoted in a new publication focusing on strictly events in the county with a special feature about all successful sponsorship recipients.
For-profit businesses will be noted in a special section featuring how their business ties into the festival.
This program opens a new door for the Tioga County Visitors Bureau to work directly with county festivals to increase awareness of the event and to promote it to a larger audience.
Dennis Miller, Mansfield University public relations director and president of Tioga County Visitors Bureau, said the new sponsorship format will better assist festivals and events with limited staffing to focus on creating quality programs.
"The new format also enables Tioga County to take a more comprehensive, uniform and professional approach in marketing festivals and events," Miller said.
"Festivals and celebrations already (promote) the beauty, history (and) unique heritage of Tioga County," he added. "Lending support to these organizations benefits everyone in the county."