Tourism is a priority in Carbon County.

That's why county officials created the tourism grant fund after they implemented the 3 percent hotel tax in February 2007.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board unanimously voted to approve a memorandum of understanding between Carbon County and the Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau that supports the grant initiatives in Carbon County. The memorandum of understanding also authorizes the release of $50,000 from the Hotel Room Excise Tax fund for the county's tourism grant.

A total of 16 nonprofit organizations will benefit from the ongoing grant during this round of funding. The county distributes the grant twice a year.

Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, said the county has been disbursing the money raised by the hotel tax since 2007. To date, Carbon County has distributed $289,000 to nonprofit organizations to help promote tourism; and used $215,000 to help with the operations and make improvements to Mauch Chunk Lake Park, a popular tourist attraction during the summer months.

"We've dispersed over $500,000 so far," O'Gurek said, noting that the county receives a total of 50 percent of the tax.

Of the 50 percent, Carbon County receives 20 percent; 28 percent is put into the grant fund; and 2 percent goes toward administration fees.

The remaining 50 percent goes to the Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau.

"It's a 50/50 split," O'Gurek said. "Since the tax was implemented, a total of $1.2 million has been collected. That money is a great help to the county in that we don't have to spend tax dollars at the park. It's a win-win not only for the organizations, but for the county as well. It's a way of putting money that's not coming through taxes back into the county."

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein added that the second round of grant applications is currently open to any nonprofit organization that promotes tourism. Applications can be picked up at the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce, located at 110 N. Third St., Suite 216, Lehighton, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Deadline for applications is Sept. 30, he noted.

After the grant period closes, the recipients are chosen by the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce's Room Tax Allocation Committee.

The committee reviews the applications and determines which projects meet the requirements for funding and then provides its recommendations to the county.

This grant round's recipients are:

Ÿ The Concourse Club of Palmerton: $1,500 for an art show.

Ÿ Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce: $12,649 for various projects.

Ÿ Penn Kidder Chamber of Commerce: $4,500 for a 2010 parade float.

Ÿ Lake Harmony Volunteer Fire Company: $4,054 for the promotion of tourism - firemen's convention.

Ÿ Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center: $1,000 for the Victorian Heritage Festival.

Ÿ Old Jail Museum: $1,525 for brochures for wide distribution.

Ÿ Carbon County Lion/ Lioness Fair Association, Inc.: $5,752 for advertising expenses incurred for the 2009 fair.

Ÿ Rotary Club of Jim Thorpe: $1,270 for ghost walks in Old Mauch Chunk.

Ÿ Carbon County Tourism and Accommodations Committee: $5,000 for advertising and marketing.

Ÿ Weatherly Hill Climb Association and Weatherly Rotary Foundation: $3,000 for the Weatherly Homecoming Weekend.

Ÿ Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation: $500 for African-American Abstract Master Show.

Ÿ Panther Creek Valley Foundation - No. 9 Coal Mine and Museum: $5,000 to help operate the coal mining museum.

Ÿ Lehighton/Franklin Township Lions Club: $2,500 for Festival of Lights.

Ÿ Ukrainian American Heritage Foundation with ODWU: $500 for annual dance camp/workshop and advertising and press releases.

Ÿ Ukrainian Homestead - 19th Annual Ukrainian Folk Festival: $500 for entertainment budget.

Ÿ Spirit Creations Ministries TA Indian River Art Guild: $750 for Project Swan Day 2011 marketing and advertising.

The Carbon County Hotel Excise Tax, which includes a 3 percent tax on room rentals in hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and resorts in the county, was signed by the commissioners in 2007.

The tax had been under negotiation since 2004, when commissioners voted down Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau's original proposal of a 20 percent revenue return on the money the tax would generate. They eventually negotiated a 50 percent revenue return to the county.