Curry County commissioners Wednesday voted to put a ballot question on the May ballot asking voters to approve a 7 percent transient lodging tax to pay for tourism promotion, the Event Center on the Beach and sheriff’s deputy patrols.

The tax would only be applied to those staying in hotels, lodges, inns and other similar rented facilities in unincorporated Curry County. Curry County’s three cities already have such taxes in place, with Brookings and Gold Beach charging 6 percent and Port Orford 7 percent.

The transient lodging tax (TLT) is among the ideas the county Citizens Revenue Task Force crafted as one way to develop a long-term, sustainable revenue source for the county. If voters approve it in May, it would go into effect Sept. 1.

Voters rejected a similar proposal in 2015 by a 52.5 to 47.5 percent margin, with hoteliers citing the already 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 law enforcement in unincorporated Curry County

Task force members believe better wording on the ballot and having a citizen’s board to determine where the money would be spent will assuage any mistrust among them this time.

Why more taxes?

Curry and other southwestern Oregon counties were deemed by the state in 2012 to be in financial distress since the federal government cut Secure Rural Schools and timber receipt funding, which provided the vast majority of funding to run local government.

That designation opened up legislation allowing certain counties to take money from their road funds to provide for local sheriff’s patrols. Later legislation expanded to include services related to those patrols, primarily emergency communications.

Task force members have said they realize a TLT is only one small piece in a multi-pieced puzzle, and are also researching how a tax on restaurant food and brainstorming ideas for what they’re calling “The Big Fix.”

TLTs are in place in more than 100 jurisdictions in Oregon, and range from 2 to 13.5 percent, said task force member Ron Crook.

Part two

Commissioners also approved, as required, an administrative aspect of the tax addressing how the money would be spent. Such administrative details do not need voter approval, but the overall information regarding how the money would be spent will be in the ballot question posed in May.

If approved, and based on figures showing Curry County hoteliers grossed more than $12.9 million in 2017, the county would collect $905,662 in TLT taxes. By state law, 70 percent — $602,265 — must be spent on tourism promotion. The remaining 30 percent would be divided with 25 percent, or $215,095, going to sheriff’s deputy patrols and 5 percent, or $43,019, going to pay for administrative expenses.

The $602,265 designated for tourism promotion would be split, with 50 percent — $301,133 — going to the Event Center on the Beach in Gold Beach and an equal amount to other tourism promotion.

While state law mandates cities or counties to spend 70 percent of TLT revenue on tourism efforts, Brookings was grandfathered in, having created a TLT before state law formalizing it was approved. There, 75 percent of TLT revenue goes to the city’s coffers and the remainder to tourism promotion.

County Attorney John Huttl emphasized money going to the event center does not include the Curry County Fairgrounds, and its designation to the event center is not in perpetuity and could be changed by this commissioner board or future ones.

Josh Hopkins, the county director of parks, asked if commissioners would consider his department as a recipient of some of the tourism-oriented money.

“I’m hearing that there’s a sense that the majority of the money would be spent in Gold Beach,” he said. “That’s not sitting well with the rest of the county.”

He suggested the county consider allocating 10 to 15 percent of the tourism dollars to further develop county parks and perhaps make much-needed improvements to the popular Bagnell Ferry ramp on the Rogue River as means by which to attract more visitors to the area.

“Hiking trails, fitness courts, the boat launch, expand our amenities,” he said, citing Boice Cope Park in North County that generates $10,000 a year from visitors and could be improved to bring more.

“Ashland puts its revenues into its parks because the citizens there value parks,” he said. “Recreational tourism is a huge draw for this reason.”

A Local Tourism Promotions Committee would be formed, similar to the one in Brookings, to determine how the $301,133 designated for countywide tourism efforts would be spent.

That board is proposed to be comprised of seven members, with two from each part of the county and one at-large. They must be in the tourism industry — hotels, restaurants and merchants — get approval from commissioners for project allocations and report to the board each year about the use of the money.

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