About three dozen applicants to receive $377K in hotel tax grant money
Thirty-seven Somerset County organizations and businesses will be awarded $377,188 in tourism-related grants, according to the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
The 2018 recipients will be announced at an awards ceremony at 11 a.m. Jan. 30 in the Grand Ballroom at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.
The amount represents an increase of approximately $66,700 from 2017, when $310,497 was awarded.
The tourism grants are funded by 40 percent of the annual proceeds of Somerset County’s hotel tax, which was implemented in 2002, with the first cycle of awards given the following year. The remaining 60 percent is split between the visitors bureau and the county.
State legislation permitted some counties to impose a 3 percent tax on guests at hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast establishments.
In 2016 Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 18, which authorized counties to increase the tax from 3 percent to 5 percent.
Grant recipients must now provide at least a 25 percent match, according to the law. The match can be in the form of in-kind services, cash or volunteer time. The Somerset County commissioners opted in and increased the levy in 2018.
Last year, hotel occupancy increased by 3.2 percent and hotel revenue increased by 7.8 percent, according to Ann Nemanic, executive director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
“As is evident by the increase in lodging occupancy and hotel revenue, tourism in Somerset County was on an uptick for 2018,” she said.
The bureau’s marketing efforts were fine-tuned to the county’s tourism assets, emphasis was placed on extended-stay opportunities and more special events were held in the region, providing content for those marketing efforts, she said.
Each county has a committee that reviews applications and awards the grants. The Somerset County grant review committee includes Pat Terlingo, county commissioner; Eric Mauck, CEO of Seven Springs Mountain Resort; George Coyle, general manager of Somerset Med Services; John Weir of PBS Coals; and Kristin Ecker, vice president of marketing and communications for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
The committee spent months going over 40 applications requesting a total of $462,277.
This was Terlingo’s first time on the grant committee, of which he was named chairman. He was impressed and a bit overwhelmed when he first received a huge box with all the paperwork that came with the applicants’ funding proposals.
But he dug in and took time going through the applications, and was impressed along the way. Terlingo gave credit to everyone on the committee, especially Weir, his longtime friend, who knew where each applicant’s business or organization was located since he and his wife had visited all of them.
Terlingo was proud that the committee recognized the efforts of all the applicants.
“Everybody (on the committee) was so cooperative, it was unbelievable,” Terlingo said. “That is the way working together as a group should be.”
The visitors bureau administers the programs for Somerset, Westmoreland and Fayette counties, tracking the grants and collecting reports from recipients when projects are complete.
Since the tourism grant program was enacted in 2003, more than $4.8 million has been awarded to tourism-related businesses and organizations in Somerset County, said Anna Weltz, bureau public relations director.