Curry County Administrator Clark Schroeder will bring to the board of commissioners today a proposal crafted by the Citizens Revenue Task Force to implement a 7 percent transient lodging tax (TLT) for those staying in hotels and other lodging facilities in unincorporated parts of the county.

County officials hope to place the question on next May’s ballot.

The commissioner board meets at 10 a.m. today (Dec. 12) in the county annex building on Moore Street in Gold Beach.

Curry’s tax history

This isn’t the first time voters in unincorporated county have been asked to approve a ballot question to tax visitors for lodging.

In 2015, then-County Commissioner Susan Brown headed up a similar proposal to raise money for rapidly-dwindling county coffers.

She originally proposed the county implement a 9 percent lodging tax — it was lowered to 6 percent — in the unincorporated areas of Curry County. Gold Beach and Brookings each charge 6 percent; Port Orford charges 7 percent.

Hoteliers fought the proposal, citing a tight profit margin in the industry, among other issues. Advocates noted the tax is paid by those using hotels — tourists — and don’t affect local residents. They also cited the need for more money for a sheriff department that is operating on a skeleton crew and whose jail is at the end of its life.

Voters rejected it 52.5 to 47.5 percent.

Under state law, 30 percent of lodging tax revenue can be used for the cities or counties in which it was generated; the rest is required to be spent on tourism promotion. Brookings is different — 75 percent of it goes to the city and the remainder to tourism — as it had a lodging tax in place when the state approved legislation in 2003 allowing the tax.

Most ballot questions asking for a tax increase have failed miserably, some with voters saying county commissioners are crying wolf regarding the county’s finances. Many have also noted the county has access to its Road Fund Reserve of some $30 million from which it is allowed to borrow money for law enforcement and said leaders should go there before hitting up taxpayers.

And today …

Schroeder will present two possible ordinances for the board to consider at its meeting.

The first would put the question to the voters, specifying that 70 percent of revenue it generates would go to advance tourism. Of the remaining 30 percent, up to 5 percent would go to the county to recoup its costs for administering the tax; the remainder would go to the sheriff’s department.

A report indicates a 7 percent tax would generate an estimated $602,265 for tourism promotion and $215,095 for the sheriff’s office. The remaining $43,000 would be spent to administer the program.

The second ordinance, which is administrative and does not require a vote, would implement the transient lodging tax — part of which requires the county to create a tourism promotion board.

Other issues Schroeder believes county commissioners will address include management of such a board, marketing, how much might be allocated to the county fairgrounds — and how both pots of money would be divided up geographically in Curry County.

Schroeder proposes a seven-member tourism advisory board, with two from each of the school districts in the county and one at-large position. All members would represent some aspect of the tourism business, and there could be no more than three from any one given industry.

A local tax review committee, comprised of an attorney, accountant, a hotelier or innkeeper and two at-large positions, would be created to approve or change forms and policies and serve as an advisory panel to the board of commissioners.

More than 100 jurisdictions in Oregon have imposed a TLT, Schroeder said in his memo to the board. And there are about 100 lodging facilities in unincorporated Curry County that would be subject to an approved tax.

The Curry County Fair Board hired Dean Runyan Association to analyze Curry County lodging sales, a tax and what that could generate for tourism. Originally, Schroeder said, the fair board wanted to put the question to the voters — but learned only governing agencies can place tax questions to voters.

The Dean Runyon report say more than 1.57 million overnight visitors stayed in hotels in Curry County in 2017, and of the $132.6 million they spent while here, almost $13 million was spent on lodging in unincorporated Curry County.

“It’s a small drop in the bucket compared to the overall problems the county has,” Schroeder said of the sheriff’s office’s allocation. “But it could help fund three or four deputies. I think that’s kind of the intent: We’re collecting money from tourism, you might as well have increased sheriff’s patrols to make the county feel safer.”

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