Deschutes Co. voters also face Nov. room tax hike

Different amount than city's proposal; similar reason

BEND, Ore. - It turns out that Bend voters won't be the only ones facing a proposed room tax increase on the November ballot. Deschutes County commissioners voted Monday to send a proposed 1 percent increase to voters at the same time, generating nearly $500,000 a year, primarily to better market the county Fairgrounds and Expo Center.

Recently, Bend city councilors agreed to send a two-phase, 1.4 percent increase in the current 9 percent room tax to the November ballot. Under a compromise reached between high-end and budget lodging operators, the rate would rise to 10 percent next June, then another .4 percent in June 2015.

That proposal would raise funds for police and fire services, as well as tourism and arts promotion.

Like the city's proposal, the Deschutes County room tax hike would be paid by visitors to the area, and 70 percent would go toward marketing the fairgrounds and event center.

Commissioner Tammy Baney said a few people testified at Monday's public hearing for the proposed increase, while critics said it would be hard to pass on the full increase in room rates without bearing some of the costs.

Fairgrounds Director Dan Despotopulos said his marketing budget was about $14,000 for the Expo Center last year and $17,000 for the adjacent RV park. A new, interactive Website would be one of the new marketing tools, he said.

The county enacted a 5 percent room tax in the 1970s, raised to 6 percent in 1980 and 7 percent in 1987, the last increase.

County Administrator Tom Anderson said nearly a third (30 percent) of the room tax increase would go into the county's general fund, "here it would help pay for critical county services such as public safety, health and human services, county infrastructure, or additional support for the Fair & Expo Center."

As for sharing the ballot with the Bend room tax proposal, Anderson expressed optimism that "between now and the time ballots are mailed, additional information will be made available to the public to clarify the differences between the two measures."

Anderson noted that county staff are prohibited from advocating such measures, but said he expects commissioners, fair board members and others "will provide clarification and perspective on the county's TRT (transient room tax) ballot measure."

The county board also recently sent a proposed Alfalfa-area fire district to the November ballot. The deadline for measures to be placed on the ballot is in early September.

And then there's another potentially confusing element: Bend councilors recently agreed to send a 20 cents per $1,000 fire department property tax levy to voters next May. So Bend voters will face not one, but two proposed tax hikes in coming months to help the fire department.

Interim Fire Chief Larry Langston explained Tuesday to NewsChannel 21 that the fire department's share of the room tax hike would bring in about $120,000 a year for the department.

"Those funds would be used to transition from the old mobile data terminals on the (fire) apparatus to new tablet-based technology," Langston wrote. "The (May) levy is for staffing to bring response time down. If passed, it would result in approximately $2 million a year for five years."

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