WARRENTON - All those touched by the Transient Room Tax will be asked to weigh in on the proposed increase from 7 percent to 9 percent.

The Warrenton Budget Committee has recommended the increase to maintain General Fund-supported city services which the city manager warns are rising in cost at an "alarming rate."

The committee's recommendation stipulates that additional revenue raised from an increase should be put towards future public safety costs if possible.

Wednesday was the first step with a public hearing held by Warrenton Mayor Jeff Hazen and his colleagues on the commission.

Three public hearings have been scheduled for the proposed room tax increase, said City Manager Scott Derickson.

"As discussed during the budgeting process, costs associated with General Fund services, primarily related to law enforcement, insurance - which includes both liability and medical - have been dramatically increasing.

"Demands for General Fund services, such as emergency response, is expected to continue increasing at an alarming rate, especially as the amount of tourism increases due to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial," Derickson added.

The city manager said the number of fire department responses has more than doubled compared with June 2001 (26 calls to 56 this year). The price tag for police dispatching services goes up $26,000 next fiscal year.

"Currently, the Transient Room Tax is the only mechanism the city has for collecting revenue from those who visit our community, and contribute to demand on city services. The City Commission should also understand that the Oregon Legislature routinely considers pre-emptive legislation that would restrict the use of Transient Room Tax revenue to strictly promoting tourism and prevent the city from using room tax revenue to offset the impact of tourism on the community," Derickson added.

Looking around neighboring cities, Astoria has a tax of 9 percent. Seaside is at 7 percent, but working on increasing it to 8 percent.

For Warrenton, a 7 percent tax rate brings in $163,500; 9 percent would bring in $205,000 for the General Fund, Derickson said.

Discussion Wednesday centered on making that increase take effect in September. With the late start, the city could expect about $183,500, said Derickson.

Seventy-five percent of local Transient Room Tax mony goes to the city. The remaining balance goes to the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lower Columbia Tourism Committee, city staff said.

The only public comments Wednesday came from officials from Fort Stevens State Park, who asked the commission to weigh what extra costs mean compounded to increases in water, sewer and garbage rates already in place.

Commissioner Lylla Gaebel noted that the county is also considering the issue of how to fund a new jail, which could affect revenue allocation.

Those affected by Warrenton's tax will be notified about the next two meetings by mail, Derickson said.

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