Op-Ed on Ballot Measure 6-152 Lodging Tax
Many people ask why the County can't just make the federal government increase timber harvests, or pay the County for the lands that they are not harvesting. Over the last twenty years, Coos County has consistently lobbied the federal government to increase timber harvests and return to sustainable harvest levels that will provide both jobs and tax revenue. These efforts have been largely unsuccessful, although we continue to educate, remind, and lobby for changes to federal timber policy to create a sustainable solution that meets the needs of all, not just the needs of the few. We believe that federal timber policy will change in the future in large part because of the catastrophic forest fires, but this change will likely be years in the making. Coos County needs to improve its financial future now.
The Coos County Commissioners continue to actively seek ways to improve the County budget situation. When you open your ballot in a few weeks, you may notice Measure 6-152, put on the ballot by the Commissioners. This measure would create a county-wide lodging tax. Coos County citizens would not pay this tax unless they stayed in a hotel, campground, RV park, or vacation rental in Coos County. Tourists are currently not contributing any lodging tax in the unincorporated portions of our county except the statewide lodging tax, which is kept by the State of Oregon and used to promote tourism statewide.
Lodging tax has restrictions under Oregon law. Seventy (70) percent must be used for tourism promotion or tourism related facilities. The other 30% is unrestricted and would be used to fund public safety, including the Coos County jail, the District Attorney's Office, and the Sheriff's department. Public safety is the largest user of our unrestricted funds, and it needs to have a long term, sustainable funding source in order for us to attract and retain our dedicated deputies. This measure would raise about $2.7 million dollars total per year, which would provide about $800,000 for public safety and $1,900,000 for tourism promotion. It doesn't fund all of our public safety needs, but it is a good start.
Won't people avoid Coos County if we have a lodging tax? Unlikely. Tillamook County passed a similar tax in 2013, and they experienced a 16% increase in tourism last year. Coos County is one of the few Oregon coastal counties that does not have a lodging tax. In all, 82 cities and 16 counties in Oregon have lodging taxes. In fact, Curry County voters will also be considering a lodging tax this November. Currently, visitors who stay in the unincorporated areas of Coos County only pay a 1% tax that goes directly to the State of Oregon. If visitors stay in a city in Coos County, they currently pay a lodging tax imposed by the city as well as the state tax. This county-wide tax would level the playing field, so a tourist will pay the same rate no matter where they stay in the County.
Coos County’s tourism industry is a key component of our economic future. Tourism provides a sizeable portion of the jobs and income in our County. We can do a better job of marketing ourselves through tourism promotion, advertising and upgrading our tourist facilities, and a lodging tax would bring in the revenue needed to accomplish that goal.
Vote yes on improving the future of Coos County. Vote yes on 6-152.
Melissa Cribbins, John Sweet, and Bob Main
Coos County Board of Commissioners
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