CANNON BEACH — City councilors voiced their opposition Tuesday to a Clatsop County lodging tax increase to help pay for jail operations, primarily taking issue with the lack of communication the county had with the city before the vote.
Monica Steele, the county’s budget and finance director, gave a presentation to the City Council about the new tax, which will impact lodging operators starting in January.
The county tax comes in anticipation of a $20 million bond measure in November to move the Clatsop County Jail from Astoria to the former North Coast Youth Correctional Facility in Warrenton. Annual jail operating costs — $3.4 million this year — are estimated to rise by more than $1.2 million if the jail is relocated.
But city councilors took issue with the fact the county did not approach the city or local lodging operators about the tax increase.
“They should have been talking to us and hotel management before this,” Mayor Sam Steidel said.
Cannon Beach joins dissenters in the lodging industry who have also been critical about not being included in discussions before the tax hike. Lodging operators also have argued the tax would dampen revenue and unfairly targets a single industry.
Proponents believe the 1 percent increase is relatively minimal and would mostly impact visitors from outside the county, who Sheriff Tom Bergin claims make up 27 percent of the inmate population.
City Councilor George Vetter said adding a county tax is another “bureaucratic burden” to hotels and rental companies, which already have to report separate taxes on the city and state level.
Others, like City Councilor Mike Benefield, took issue with the county handing the city restricted tourism promotion dollars it may not necessarily want.
By state law, only 30 percent of the new tax — about $420,000 of the $1.4 million estimated to be brought in annually — can be used for jail operations. The other 70 percent must be used for tourism promotion.
The tourism promotion portion of the revenue collected from businesses within city limits will be returned to cities to use how they see fit, Steele said. The new tax will raise the Cannon Beach lodging tax from 8 to 9 percent and is estimated to raise $380,000 in revenue a quarter for the city.
“I don’t want more promotion. I don’t want more advertising. You can take back (to the county commission) at least one councilor is not at all happy about this,” Benefield told Steele.
If the tax has to stay, Benefield suggested the county work with the state to broaden the definition of a tourism-related facility in state law so the money could support a variety of city functions.
“Have the county support that notion … then I wouldn’t be quite as opposed to you throwing money at us and telling us how to spend it,” he said.
Councilors did discuss a possible appeal of the county’s decision, but was advised against it by City Attorney Ashley Driscoll, who said appealing a tax the county has the right to implement would be “an uphill legal battle.”
Instead, the City Council agreed to send a letter to the county outlining concerns with the tax hike, including a request to repeal it regardless of whether the bond passes.
“We’re not appreciative of the way the (county) went about this,” Steidel said.