Hood River County Residents have already started receiving their ballots for the May 21 Special District Election and have no doubt noticed that it includes two revenue measures: 14-65, a Public Health and Safety Five Year Local Option Levy, and 14-66, a Prepared Food and Beverage Tax. (See sidebars for details on each measure.)
These two measures are the result of 18 months’ work by Hood River County staff and commissioners to address the county’s ongoing budget crisis, caused by decreases in revenue over the years. As of this budget cycle, the county estimates a total $5.3 million in unmet need, including a $1.6 million deficit.
If either or both of the measures pass, the county will have the resources to start resolving its deficit and improving county services.
If neither pass, the county will have to either come up with another solution within the next two budget cycles or resolve to significantly cut services.
“We will make the decision to stay within our means (if both measures fail), but it will be at great service loss for the community,” said Commissioner Karen Joplin in an earlier interview.
The county is able to take $750,000 from its reserve fund for the next two budget cycles to balance the budget, but once that’s depleted, Joplin expects that the county will focus on preserving services the state considers essential.
“Anything that is considered non-essential, that is what would get cut,” she said.
Those services include parks and recreation, trail management, law enforcement, the OSU extension program, snowplowing and more.
“We would be operating within our means and the county would look significantly different,” she said.
While the community has been generally sympathetic to the county’s financial issues and supportive of the two revenue measures, the Prepared Food and Beverage Tax has met opposition from members of the local restaurant industry, who say the tax unfairly targets their industry and will negatively impact local customers and restaurant employees.
“At a time when restaurants and breweries face incredible competition and are adjusting to ever-increasing costs, it’s a terrible time to target our industry with a sales tax.
“The tax has been pitched as a tax on tourists, but please be clear, the year-around residents of Hood River will fund the bulk of this tax,” reads an April 27 Letter to the Editor signed by 20 individuals representing 15 local food service businesses.
“We need a sustainable and balanced way to address the county’s financial problems, but targeting just one industry and the income of its hard working staff is not the way to do it,” the letter continues.
“The county still has three years of budget reserves, so we have time to find a better way. Let’s not make it harder to work and live in Hood River.”
Several local businesses, including Full Sail Brewery, Pine Grove Store, Big Horse Brewery, Subway, Michoacan and Taqueria Los Amigos, have signs posted outside their businesses baring the phrase “No! Sales Tax on Meals,” encouraging customers to vote “no” on the measure. The signs also link to a website, www.nosalestaxonmeals.com, where people are encouraged to write Letters to the Editor and pledge donations.
A separate petition called “please vote ‘NO’ on 14-66,” was also started on causes.com, though it had no signatures as of press time.
On the other side, a local PAC called “Safe & Healthy HRC” — whose members include Commission Chair Mike Oates, former Commission Chair Ron Rivers, Hood River County School District Superintendent Dan Goldman and Sheriff Matt English — formed to fund a campaign for both revenue proposals.
The group has established a website, where county residents can request “Vote Yes” yard signs, sign an endorsement list and pledge donations.
Former county commissioner and local restaurateur Maui Meyer is also a member of Safe & Healthy Hood River County and publicly supports the county tax measures, despite the negative effect the Prepared Food and Beverage Tax is expected to have on his industry.
“If we list the burden evenly, it’ll be lighter for everybody,” he said. “I too understand the county’s situation and I’m voting for the measure.”
In the end, the decision lies in the hands of Hood River County voters.
Ballots were mailed May 1 and the county encourages folks who don’t receive their ballots by May 6 to contact the County Elections office at 541-386-1442.
The community is invited to attend a Special Districts forum May 8 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. (forum starts at 6 p.m.) at Hood River Hotel, 102 Oak St., in the basement banquet room, to hear from Hood River Port Commission and Hood River Parks and Recreation board candidates and to learn about both county revenue measures.
For more information on the measures, and the positions up for election, visit www.co.hood-river.or.us.
The Elections Office is open weekdays until 5 p.m.; call 541-386-1442 for details.