Hood River County to direct $550K for park septic fixes

The Hood River County Board of Commissioners decided Monday to put $550,000 worth of transient room tax revenue toward county park septic system repairs over the next several years.

Funds will go toward replacing two major restroom systems at Toll Bridge Park near Parkdale, where system failures have caused partial park closures.

The board’s decision Monday will divert TRT money away from its current recipient, the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce, according to a funding scenario staff presented. The revenue has previously gone toward the chamber’s destination marketing and tourism programs.

Commissioners selected an option to split TRT funds with the chamber for the 2016/2017 fiscal year, but in following years to devote all the money toward county parks until the septic project is paid off.

“What’s recommended is that the dollars this fiscal year be spent fifty-fifty. And that will get the county going, and it will also help preserve to a great degree … the money that’s in the chamber’s budget for this fiscal year,” County Administrator Jeff Hecksel explained.

For following years, however, all the county’s TRT revenue will be diverted toward parks until the whole project is paid off.

In September, Mikel Diwan, county public works director, told the board about immediate issues with restroom facilities at Toll Bridge Park. Septic-related failures led to partial shutdown of the park.

Discussing Monday’s decision, Hecksel and commissioners highlighted the chamber’s importance but also stressed county budget issues.

They noted the county is considering a sales tax for 2018 in order to raise revenue, and that could allow county leaders to rethink the new TRT plan.

At the meeting, Commissioner Rich McBride told Mike Glover, chamber executive director, he recognized the “squeeze” the county was putting the chamber in.

Of the budget situation, McBride said, “We’re just hanging on by our fingernails,” and he expressed hope that the chamber could help with the county’s tax initiative.

Glover said he will continue discussions with Hecksel about new funding options, and that, “It’s in no one’s best interest to have that septic system non-functional.”

Toll Bridge Park, one of the county’s most heavily used parks, provides sites for overnight camping, including hook-up sites, single tent sites and group sites.

At the outset of the meeting, the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office garnered recognition for its efforts rescuing more than 150 hikers during the Eagle Creek fire.

Kevin Gorman, executive director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge, presented Sheriff Matt English and deputies with a check for more than $46,000, raised by donations.

In other business, the board heard an update from Hood River County Planning Director John Roberts about short-term rental regulations. Roberts explained that five STR applications are under appeal, and the issue is scheduled to come before the planning commission soon.

The board mentioned bringing up the matter — complications related to enforcing the county STR ordinance — at their next meeting, in November.

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