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Brookings City Council cool on lodging tax for event center


The Brookings City Council wants to hear from the public before it agrees to ask voters to increase Transient Occupancy Taxes by 1 to 2 percent on people who stay in hotels, RV parks and inns.

The earliest a ballot question would be posed to voters would be in November 2018.

Gold Beach city councilors Becky Campbell and Doug Brand, along with Curry County Fairgrounds manager Ron Crook, asked the city to consider a rate increase to help them with operation and maintenance costs with the Events Center at the Beach in Gold Beach.

The proposal would not have a “sunset date,” as the event center needs a source of revenue in perpetuity, Campbell said.

The Gold Beach facility is comprised of several buildings — one of which serves as a meeting, festival and entertainment venue — a rodeo arena, a 4-H building, exhibition rooms, livestock pavilions and other buildings.

But the county, which owns the fairgrounds, has not allocated any money for upkeep since 1993, Campbell said — and work is badly needed.

“The events center is at the tipping point,” she said. “We either need to fix the roof or abandon the building. Gold Beach doesn’t necessarily feel it’s the responsibility of Gold Beach to do this. It should be the responsibility of the county, but they haven’t given us a dime in over 20 years.”

Gold Beach has a 7 percent TOT tax, of which 1 percent is dedicated to maintenance and operations of the fairground, but that only brings in about $57,000 a year. The roof will cost more than $150,000.

“We’ve been patching it and patching it and patching it,” Campbell said. “It’s at the point it needs to be replaced. If the event center spends no money and puts it all in reserve for this roof, it’ll be three years (before the roof is replaced).”

Benefits to Brookings?

Most of the Brookings council agreed they didn’t know how money generated in Brookings and funneled to the center would increase tourism in Brookings, as such a tax requires.

But Brand said that, as the owner of a bike shop in Brookings, visitors constantly tell him there is no shopping in Gold Beach, so they come to Brookings.

“They do the jet boats and they’re done,” he said of options in Gold Beach. “The front line staff does nothing to promote (shopping). You’re the recipients of all the tourism dollars — they all come to Brookings. There’s nothing to do in Gold Beach.”

He cited former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics as a success story for Brookings.

“They buy fuel, they go to the stores, the grocery, and many end up staying after they leave (Gold Beach),” Brand said. “We know that, because they tell us. Your town is a magnet for the event center, which is a magnet for Brookings.”

Further, he added, those people return, sometimes to relocate and start new businesses.

“That’s a direct result of them coming to an event at the event center in Gold Beach,” he said. “And the beauty is, you don’t need to spend a dime to do this.”

Campbell pointed out that hoteliers already have the system in place to collect TOT revenue, of which they get a 5 percent cut for their efforts. She also reminded the council that residents don’t pay this tax unless they stay in a local hotel or inn.

“We’re not asking to tax the people of Brookings any more than we’re asking to tax the people of Gold Beach,” she said. “That wouldn’t pass. None of us would be reelected if we did; it’s suicide.”

Crook said he has the support of many hotel owners in the community if the question were put to a vote.

Former County Commissioner Susan Brown worked to get a 6 percent TOT tax on lodging facilities in the unincorporated areas on last year’s November ballot, but it failed at the polls despite the fact that only visitors staying in Curry County would pay it.

“When Susan Brown put that on, there was no group of support to organize it,” he said. “No one was pushing it. And the one motel owner who worked hard against this has sold his motel. If there was enough support to work on this, we could get it passed.”

“My problem is that a lot of stuff gets thrown on our lap,” said Brookings Councilor Brent Hodges. “At some point, the unincorporated area needs to pick up its rate.”

The event center

The city of Gold Beach has a $250,000 budget for promotional efforts, most of which goes to the visitors center, salaries and marketing, Brand said.

The only money that comes into the fairgrounds is from Friends of the Fair, a nonprofit that caters weddings, conventions and other large groups; all its profits fund maintenance of the center. Last year, that totaled $37,500.

And thousands of people come through the fairgrounds and the event center every year, from small groups such as a Travel Oregon with 24 people to 8,125 folks who came to the annual county fair. Other popular events last year included the Gold Beach Brew and Art Festival (1,125 people), the free Thanksgiving dinner (474) and the Cedar Valley Fire Department fish fry (455).

The volunteers there, too, contributed more than 2,100 hours of time during the Chetco Bar Fire to house and care for livestock brought in from people who were evacuated.

“That was 100 animals who had free use of the facility for their safety,” Campbell said, adding that donations from feed stores and private people was “unbelievable.”

TOT taxes

Gold Beach currently has a TOT tax of 7 percent, of which 1 percent is dedicated to fairgrounds maintenance. Brookings’ tax is 7.8 percent, of which 1.8 percent goes to the state for tourism promotion. Port Orford’s is 7 percent.

By state law, 70 percent of revenue generated from any increase in TOT taxes must be dedicated to tourism promotion and the rest can be spent as the taxing entity sees fit. In most cases, including in Curry County, it goes into general fund coffers.

Brookings, however, had a TOT in place before that law was enacted — thus grandfathering its existing allocation of 75 percent to the general fund and the remainder to tourism promotion.

The Brookings council said it wants to see financial data and a draft agreement about annual reports — and more definitive information about how Brookings would benefit.