Most of you locals should have your ballot in your mailbox already, and while politics are generally something I try to avoid, I have to say something here: Please join me in voting No on Deschutes County Measure 9-61 -- aka, the room tax increase measure. Otherwise you might hear me complain about not having a job.
Obviously, I work for a tourism-driven business as the IT/Marketing grunt for a couple vacation rental companies in Sunriver, so I have a vested interest in this not passing. I've already mentioned how stupid I think this is and how my boss and other local media feels about it, so I won't rehash every bit of that again (I should, but I won't -- just read that link). The reality is that if this thing passes, in a time where the economy is already in the toilet and lodging reservations are down already because of the uncertainty around the election in general, the last thing we need right now is to discourage people from coming here and spending their money. As much as I usually loathe tourists, they do pay my paycheck, and there's a decent chance that not only I, but good friends of mine and coworkers, could lose jobs if this passes (we're already laying people off because of the downturn). I may have to look for another job come November.
Below is a letter written by one of my bosses in response to what was published in our local voter's pamphlet. I agree with it 100%:
My name is Larry Browning. I am part owner and President of Discover Sunriver Vacation Rentals in Sunriver. I am writing to request that you cast a vote in opposition (NO) on Measure 9-61 "Increase in the Deschutes County Room Tax."
By omission of several facts, I feel the Voters of Deschutes County are being misled.
I recently received my voter's pamphlet. I looked up Measure 9-61 and in reading the summary, explanatory statement and arguments in favor provided by the county, Dennis Luke, County Commissioner and Craig Unger, President of the Deschutes County Fair Association I felt compelled to share my point of view.
The Summary fails to state that – after much debate – the ballot proposal passed by a vote of 2 to 1 by the County Commissioners. Tammy Melton was the lone vote against the ballot proposal. Ms. Melton was opposed because the ballot measure did not call for a specific place for the funds to be distributed. So here we have an elected official attempting to be a good steward and be fiscally responsible and she is voted down by two other elected officials who I believe have the same responsibilities.
If you read the Ballot Measure, Ms. Melton makes a good point. The Summary states that the estimated additional revenue raised would be $1,033,000. It fails to define exactly what those funds will be used for. The Summary is actually quite vague. Ask yourself: If the monies are needed for specific shortfalls or projects, wouldn't you think those specific shortfalls would be defined here? Instead, the Ballot Measure states "The revenue from the increase in the tax on individuals renting from hotels, motels and similar room accommodations will be used to fund tourism-related facilities, such as the Fair and Expo Center, and roads that serve a substantial purpose of supporting tourism or accommodating tourist activities, and to fund county services." Phrases like "such as" and "fund county services" make me nervous. Just what do we need this $1,033,000 a year for? All of these things? Some of these things? Just in case? Just what does fall under the category of "such as"?
The original reason behind an increase in the transient room tax was because the County was losing monies from timber receipts. They will not be losing that funding for at least four years now. The other reason was because there was a decline in the number of building permits applied for. That's not going to change in the near future and, frankly, our elected officials should have planned for a decline and established a reserve. The solution is not to increase the tax on travelers to our area.
If you read the "Arguments in Favor" section in the voter's pamphlet, you'll see that Craig Unger, President of the Deschutes County Fair Association, seemingly has the money spent. Mr. Unger also seems to know my business a whole lot better than I do. He suggests that the room tax would be raised to the same rate charged in Bend and Redmond. What he fails to state is my guests are already assessed 2.3 % in addition to the room tax in the way of Home Owner Association recreation fees, making our taxes higher than Bend's or Redmond's. He also fails to note that the average daily room rates vary greatly between Redmond hotels, Bend hotels and resort properties. In other words, the resort properties already collect and remit substantially more revenue per room than do the hotels.
He also states "Visitors to our county will be the overwhelming source of the revenue raised by this tax increase, not County tax payers!" (Yes, he actually used an exclamation mark at the end of that sentence.) Correct me if I'm wrong here, but when the fairgrounds was first proposed wasn't it supposed to be paid for by homeowners in the county via property tax and revenue generated by this fabulous facility? Wasn't it supposed to be self sufficient?
Here's a fact that the commissioners and Mr. Unger neglected to add: There is well over $10,000,000 collected from absentee second home owners via property tax every year in Deschutes County. Their homes are occupied an average of 140 days a year, leaving them vacant 225 days a year. A portion of their property tax pays for fire and police services, our roads, our schools, our libraries and even helps pay for the fairgrounds. And they don't even live here.
He further states "visitors accept room taxes as a cost of staying in any resort or location". I should hire this guy! (Yes, I just used an exclamation mark.) Once again, as bright as Mr. Unger seems to be, he neglected to tell you that for every 2% increase in room tax there is a decline of 2.4% of revenue spent by the traveler. I don't know about you, but I'm not in a position to lose 2.4% of my gross revenue.
Mr. Unger states "the economic impact generated by events at the Fair and Expo Center is well over $203,000,000." That's fabulous! Here's an idea: Why doesn't the Fair and Expo Center raise their prices? If the place is that popular, patrons should expect to pay more for the opportunity to attend or use the facility, right?
Finally, where do you think that most of the people using the Fair and Expo Center stay, assuming they are from out of town? My guess would be the majority stay in Bend and Redmond hotels. How much money do you think the cities of Bend and Redmond contribute to the Fairgrounds via their transient room tax? You guessed it, zero.
If you live and work in Deschutes County this measure will affect you. The Tourism industry is not only one of the largest employers in the county, it's also one of the largest customers in the county, providing revenue streams and income for a great deal of businesses in Central Oregon. What affects the tourism industry will directly or indirectly affect just about every other business in the county.
Please join me in voting no on Measure 9-61. If you agree with me that this measure could have damaging effects to Central Oregon's economy, please pass on this message to as many area voters as you can, as soon as you can (as ballots have already arrived in most mailboxes).
Thank you for your time,
Discover Sunriver Vacation Rentals
541-593-3225 - 800-544-0300
larry [at] discoversunriver [dot] com
I'm also running an ad on this site (below the BendBroadband ad above) that will link to this entry. Feel free to copy the link for use on your site as well.