Sales Tax: County gets mixed results from survey

A public survey about a proposed countywide sales tax got a lukewarm reception.

Hood River County leaders are considering going out for a ballot measure that would pave way for the local tax, but they first checked public sentiments with a poll — results came back in early December.

Baseline results tallied 53 percent against and 42 percent in favor of a 2 percent sales tax.

The survey asked roughly 300 likely voters in the May 2018 primary election whether they would support either a 2 or 2.5 percent sales and tourism tax.

The tax would amount to 20 or 25 cents per $10 dollar purchase. Purchases of groceries, fuel and prescription medicine would be exempt from the tax, the survey said.

Tax revenue would gather about $3.5 million or $4.3 million, respectively, for county services.

Ron Rivers, Hood River County chair, said the county was surprised at how close the margin of response was.

“Nobody likes to make taxes,” Rivers said, however, “We’re trying to keep services.”

A shortfall is looming in the next budget cycle and the county is looking for new revenue streams, Rivers explained.

Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, a polling firm, randomly sampled residents from Hood River, Cascade Locks, and valley communities such as Odell and Parkdale.

Results varied, with the larger 2.5 percent tax option proving least popular — 57 percent “No” versus 40 percent “Yes.”

Better received was a clause that would also reduce property taxes by $25 on each $100,000 of assessed value. Forty-six percent of respondents said that would make their approval more likely, against 40 percent less likely.

The survey listed various county services the tax money would go toward: public safety, transportation, including road and bridge maintenances, bike lanes and sidewalks, county parks and trails, and public health, including disease prevention, and food and water safety.

Respondents ranked transportation as the highest need, while parks and trails fell lowest.

Rivers said the county board will study the results and discuss next steps at their next meeting, Monday, Dec. 18.

If perceptions turn out negative, the board may table the concept. He noted the tax plan is “all in the infancy” at this point.

Rivers phrased the tax as a way to tap into the tourist industry, which he said is often called the county’s second largest industry after agriculture.

“We have all these tourists. It’s like a free picnic for them,” he said, without the tax.

Jeff Hecksel, county administrator, said that if the county does move down the sales tax measure path for the May election, the deadline to submit it will be some time around Feb. 23.

The Dec. 18 meeting will be held at 6 p.m., in the County Business Administration Building meeting chambers, 601 State St.

In other business, the county will hold a hearing Monday concerning a garbage rate increase. The proposed 2.1 percent collection rate hike in the county would take effect Jan. 1.

All interested people may attend and be heard, a public notice states.

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