Clatsop County may impose a lodging tax to help pay for personnel costs at a new jail in Warrenton.
Voters in November will decide on a $20 million bond to turn the former North Coast Youth Correctional Facility into an expanded jail. County commissioners on Wednesday will discuss a 1 percent lodging tax to help cover personnel costs, including additional deputies, a nurse and mental health experts.
The rationale is that visitors comprise a significant number of inmates at the jail — an estimated 27 percent don’t live in the county — and should help shoulder the cost of the jail expansion.
The 1 percent tax would generate $1.4 million annually in revenue for the county and cities, according to county estimates. The tax would be in addition to a 9.5 percent lodging tax the county already imposes, as well as lodging taxes set by the state and cities.
Under state law, 70 percent of the revenue from the new tax must be spent on tourism promotion, which would leave 30 percent for jail operations. The county estimates the tax would produce $980,000 a year to the county for tourism promotion, and $420,000 for the jail.
The $20 million bond would help relocate the county jail from Duane Street in Astoria to the former North Coast Youth Correctional Facility in Warrenton. The expansion would help resolve overcrowding and other concerns, giving the county the ability to house 148 inmates, up from 60.
Annual jail operating costs — $3.4 million this year — are estimated to rise by more than $1.2 million if the jail is relocated.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Sheriff Tom Bergin said. “It’s a smart move for our citizens that put up with the tourism issue. With tourism comes good people and bad people.”
Other lodging tax proposals across the state have spurred tension with the tourism industry. A Deschutes County judge in May ruled in favor of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, which sued Bend for using money meant for tourism marketing for road repairs. Bend is appealing.
The association’s support of Clatsop County’s tax proposal depends on whether the revenue is adequately spent on tourism promotion, said Jason Brandt, the association’s CEO. That will not be fully known until next year at the earliest.
Brandt did, however, call the proposal “counterintuitive.”
“It doesn’t seem to be popular amongst the local lodging operators as far as we can tell,” he said. “What we’re seeing more of these days is an interest in raising taxes so that governments can get their hands on that 30 percent. It seems to me that the process might be somewhat backwards, that they’re imposing the taxes for the minority money. The conversation should be more focused on how to spend the majority.”
After a public hearing Wednesday, commissioners will need to hold a second hearing before adopting the tax. If passed, it would take effect in January.
If voters do not approve the November jail bond, commissioners would have the option of withdrawing the tax.
“I don’t think you’re going to see much pushback,” Bergin said. “But if they do, hopefully commissioners will do the right thing.”