As of Friday, December 22, 2017
A voter measure that would create a local sales tax is in the works.
Hood River County Board of Commissioners decided to move forward with their plan: ask voters for the tax during the May 2018 primary election.
So far, the starting point is a two-percent sales tax with exemptions for groceries, fuel and prescription medicine.
The board expects to hammer out details at a January work session, followed by two public hearings in February. The state’s filing deadline for such ballot asks is Feb. 23.
A text survey gauging public feelings toward the tax got a tepid response — 42 percent in favor versus 53 percent against. But the county panel wasn’t dissuaded.
At Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Les Perkins said those results were promising given the low level of outreach the county has taken on.
Jeff Hecksel, county administrator, said, “I figured it’d be much less than that given the popularity of sales taxes in Oregon. I actually thought that was pretty good even though it still wasn’t a majority approval.”
The survey asked roughly 300 likely voters whether they would support either a 2 or 2.5 percent sales and tourism tax. The lower rate was more popular.
The polling firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research told the county in a report, “Neither the 2 percent tax nor the 2.5 percent tax is likely to pass muster at the ballot.”
The firm recommended waiting for a general election, trying different “sweetener” incentives, considering alternatives for generating revenue, or a different tax amount.
Survey results showed a property tax break and a sunset clause didn’t dramatically increase approval for the tax.
Commissioner Karen Joplin said even if the measure fails in May, it could be a learning process for the county to try again in another election.
She cited budget and staffing issues in her advocating for the tax.
“I feel strongly that it would be irresponsible for any one of us up here (the board) to not ask the community for help before we get to next budget season, because I think next budget season is going to be awful,” Joplin said.
Perkins said the tax would capture tourist money, a revenue source he said doesn’t change the county’s budget picture.
“People don’t necessarily understand that a booming economy and lots of tourism doesn’t mean anything to the county in terms of revenue … so we need to find a way to capture some of that money that’s coming in from the transient population.”
Hecksel explained the tourism element of the tax — it could apply to attractions or some “recreational amenities” that a sales tax typically wouldn’t address.
Commissioner Rich McBride offered to put energy into personally contacting local groups, which “carries a lot of weight,” he said.
Details like the tax amount are still up for discussion. If it was two-percent, the tax would amount to 20 cents per $10 dollar purchase, gathering an estimated $3.5 million for county services.
Hecksel said the county has a mailer ready to go out telling residents about the sales tax.
The mailer will identify public hearing dates in February leading up to the board’s final decision on whether to ask voters for the tax.