Astoria’s hotel tax is officially going up to help pay for parks.
The City Council reopened a public hearing Monday night to include comments from hoteliers and others in the hospitality industry concerned about the city’s decision to raise the hotel tax, but ultimately voted to approve the tax increase and hold a final reading of the ordinance.
The ordinance will increase the hotel tax from 9 percent to 11 percent. The new tax will begin in January. City staff estimates the tax increase could generate approximately $410,000 annually. Under state guidelines, the bulk of this money would need to go to tourism-related facilities, the rest to the city’s general fund. City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard maintains that since tourists often use city parks such as the Astoria Riverwalk or the Astoria Column, the Parks and Recreation Department meets this criteria and all the money can go to defraying some of the department’s costs. The City Council accepted this interpretation at a public hearing in July.
Don West, owner of Astoria Crest Motel and general manager of the Cannery Pier Hotel, and others who spoke against the ordinance Monday debated Henningsgaard’s interpretation of a tourist-related facility. They said tourists who stayed with them did not come for Astoria’s public parks or public pool, though they might use them while they were in the city. Bed and breakfast owners Loretta Maxwell and Rebecca Greenway, who had both spoken at the public hearing in July, told the council that they would lose business over the tax increase.
“I have seen communities tax themselves and the businesses to a point that causes the very businesses they rely on for a tax base to drop dramatically,” West said.
He said the lodging industry provides thousands of jobs in Clatsop County and brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars. He and others said a similar tax increase was voted in by city councilors in the early 2000s. The money levied then was intended to go to a conference center that was never built; they wanted a guarantee this time that the money would go where the city said it was going.
Before making a motion to hold a second reading of the ordinance, City Councilor Cindy Price assured the people who spoke that the council had heard their concerns.
“I realize that there may feel like a lack of discussion here for some of you, but we have been talking about this,” she said. “We had a very long public hearing. We’ve had work sessions. We’ve been talking about this for about six months.”
She said while she and the other councilors aren’t anxious to raise taxes, they agree that the parks are an important amenity and are part of what makes Astoria attractive to visitors. The council voted unanimously to hold the second reading and finalize approval of the ordinance.
The proposal to increase the hotel tax came out of various discussions about how to sustain the parks department for the long term as the department struggles with increased responsibilities and higher costs but less full-time staff. The council had originally considered raising the hotel tax to 12 percent, but settled instead on 11 percent.