Bend council: Room tax, youth violence - and a tree

Variety of topics generate debate, but no final decisions

BEND, Ore. - Bend voters could be asked this November whether they want to raise the city's hotel-motel room tax by 2 percent, generating another $1 million-plus a year for police and fire needs, as well as tourism promotion in Seattle and Northern California, and also grants to arts programs through a "cultural tourism trust."

But several months after a sizable group of community leaders first made that pitch, councilors learned Wednesday night that the lodging industry remains sharply split between those who see such a move as positive and others, led by Wayne Purcell of The Riverhouse who oppose hiking the tax to 11 percent (plus the 1 percent state tax), saying they could lose business to other communities as a result.

Backers of the Bend Tourism, Arts & Public Safety Initiative (www.bendtaps.com) range from major developers like Bill Smith and Mike Hollern to former Bend mayor Bob Woodward, former Deschutes County Sheriff Les Stiles and many others. Several spoke to the council about the millions in tourism-generated revenue and thousands of jobs those visitors fund – but the emergency service needs they generate as well.

But that group's placement on the agenda bothered Purcell and several Third Street hotel operators who claimed earlier, during the visitor's portion of the agenda, that there's been no good-faith effort to promote dialogue on the thorny issues since the last discussion in February (indeed, a proposed committee failed to materialize).

Backers noted that cities from Portland (14.5 percent) to San Luis Obispo (12 percent) have a higher room tax, and argued that room rates, not taxes, are the prime motivating factor in where travelers decide to go.

In the end, at a plea from Councilor Sally Russell, the council agreed to do more than just hold a public hearing at their next meeting June 19 on a resolution to send the proposal to voters in November. First, two nights earlier, they will convene a moderated roundtable in an attempt to see if common ground or new ideas are achievable.

Earlier in the night, Bend Police Chief Jeff Sale offered what he called a "Proposal for the Prevention of Violent Incidents," sharing some frightening details about local school threats of youth violence, and the limits federal privacy laws put on authorities sharing information among agencies – coordination that just might prevent such attacks.

Sale, who responded to two mass shootings earlier in his career, is seeking "a proactive solution" to better identify and provide intervention to at-risk and high-risk youths prior to incidents of violence, with a goal to "reduce the risk of these individuals falling through the gaps, strengthen local partnerships, and keep our communities safer."

A tall order, for sure – but one that councilors and others would like to see happen, if federal grant and other funding can be achieved for the estimated two-year pilot project cost of $240,000.

Councilors also talked for an hour about a tree – yes, a tree – and whether a city arborist is right and a Ponderosa pine at a new community garden at NE Ninth Street and Franklin Avenue is a public safety hazard and should come down – or if arborist Wade Fagen (who ran for city council last fall) is right, and it should be saved.

After hearing plenty about it and viewing photos, the council was of a mixed opinion – and with one councilor absent (Mark Capell) and another joining the discussion midway through, the council, acting as the city's "tree board," will revisit the topic later on.

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