Chamber of Commerce, Astoria reach agreement on room tax issueAn Alderbrook property owner's request for a street vacation turned out to be the most contentious issue at Monday's Astoria City Council meeting, eclipsing an amicably resolved dispute between the city and the Lower Columbia Tourism Committee over a room tax.

Darren Doss, 4900 Ash St., had originally asked that a 250-foot by 35-foot portion of the Ash Street right-of-way east of 49th Street be vacated. He later reduced his request to a 14- by 90-foot section. Mitch Mitchum, Astoria's public works director, explained that a recent survey shows Doss already owns the beach access and granting the street vacation wouldn't change that.

But a neighbor, Ann Goldeen Sears, testified against the vacation, saying it would allow Doss to cut off public access to the Columbia River that she said the community has used continuously for more than 100 years. Goldeen recently sold her property to Ben Allen. She read letters from Allen and from Ken Olsen, a neighbor across the street, expressing concern over public access.

Goldeen alleged that Doss had already tried to block access to the beach with wood and a "no trespass" sign. Goldeen said if the street vacation is approved, a fence would likely go up. "I think that would be a bad thing," she said."When it's a hot day, the whole neighborhood goes down there."

Doss testified that he had reached agreement with the new property owner. "We're really not trying to take anyone's rights away," he said. "It's really a no brainer."

In discussion by the City Council, Joyce Compere and Loran Mathews initially favored granting Doss' request, but Blair Henningsgaard raised concerns. He said the city has supported public access to the river by creating a Riverwalk and the street vacation would run counter to that policy. He said Astoria historically has had a number of trails, and he hates to see the city give such trails away.

And he said most of the people who will be affected by the outcome of the public hearing weren't present and wouldn't find out beach access had been cut off until it was too late.

The council decided to delay its decision, and continue the public hearing at the next meeting.

No need for burning

As for the room tax issue, Mayor Willis Van Dusen joked that everyone could put away their torches and pitchforks because the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce and the city had reached an agreement on how to allocate room tax revenue under new legislation passed last year. With Joyce Compere abstaining because her husband John is co-director of the chamber, the council voted 4-0 to approve the agreement, which allocates 55 percent of receipts to the city and 45 percent to the Chamber for tourism, the Welcome Center the proposed conference center.

Until House Bill 2267 passed, the chamber received a flat $65,000 a year. But the bill required that government entities not reduce the percentage of money given to tourism after July 2, 2003.

"If we had maintained the $65,000 flat fee, it would in effect have been a reduction, because the collections are going up, so the percentage LCTC was getting would have been decreasing year by year," explained Roger Rocka, the chamber's executive director.

The bone of contention, was how to determine that percentage. The Lower Columbia Tourism Committee wanted to use fiscal year 2002-2003, the year that preceded the bill's passage. Astoria City Manager Dan Bartlett wanted to use 2003-2004, which Rocka said was a "boom year" and would have made $65,000 a much smaller percentage of the total room tax revenue.

Both the city and the chamber consulted the state Attorney General's Office, Rocka said, and the chamber prevailed. So the percentage for LCTC is set at 12.77 percent, which he said means a difference of $25.000 to $30,000 a year for the chamber committee to use to promote tourism.

"And if we do that successfully, more people stay in the motel rooms, we get more room tax, the city gets more money, so it's kind of a 'we all win' situation," Rocka said. "But the city is battling to make ends meet," he said, "so I also understand their position."

The change in room tax allocation is one of the changes to the 2004-2005 budget that was the subject of a public hearing at Monday's council meeting. Other changes include a contribution of $10,000 to the Lewis and Clark Explorer Train, which has not met its budget with the Oregon Department of Transportation. The council will review the changes over the next two weeks, and adopt the budget at the June 21 meeting.

In other business Monday, the council accepted a "Dozen Distinctive Destinations" plaque from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and proclaimed the play, "Shanghaied in Astoria," now in its 20th year, a "city treasure."

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