In voting on the May 21 Special Districts election in Hood River County, we recommend “yes” votes on both 14-65, termed the Public Health and Safety Five Year Local Option Levy, and 14-66, termed the Prepared Food and Beverage Tax.
This beautiful and vibrant county faces a stark fiscal reality: A total $5.3 million in unmet need, including a $1.6 million deficit.
Timber revenue is not the answer anymore, for this county and many others in Oregon. Yet, the healthy economy of Hood River County provides a solid basis for the dual revenue rejuvenation to work.
The levy alone is expected to generate about $2,134,257 in 2019-20, $2,198,285 in 2020-21, $2,332,160 in 2022-23 and $2,402,125 in 2023-24.
The county needs the funds, and it is asking the public to share in the burden.
It is understandable, the sense among the local restaurant and hospitality industry that restoring the county coffers is a weight being placed unfairly upon one segment of the economy.
One element of the county’s outreach might have been to directly consult with the affected businesses. But the search for public input, from all spheres, was well-publicized and county leaders made themselves available to listen on multiple occasions.
We believe county officials did the legwork they needed to justify the requests, with months of consideration and contact with the community. The public had opportunities to learn and engage with county leaders before the decision was made to present the measures on the ballot. These date back to drop-in budget workshops in October and November and hearings held in February in Odell and Hood River.
Moreover, the food and beverage tax is only one of the two revenue requests. The property tax levy spreads the load among us all, and the added 89 cents per thousand, while an increase, still does not bring Hood River County up to par with the overall tax rates of neighboring counties.
It’s a little unfortunate that the food and beverage tax applies to a single baked good but not a dozen, nor to cakes and large quantities of desserts. The silliness of taxing one donut but not the whole box, and an ice cream cone but not a quart of the stuff, seems like a tweak the county should strive to fix, should the measure pass. Similarly, it is a shame that alcoholic beverages are not taxed. Granted, state law does not allow it, but if the county only had a nickel for every serving of ale, cider or wine sold in these parts ...
And we believe most consumers would happily pay a bit more for prepared food subject to the tax. It is fair to say that 95 percent of people paying a decent tip on this year’s $25 will still pay a decent tip on next year’s $27 pizza.
Homeowners and those affected by a property tax increase will feel the effect in the first year or two, but at $14 a month — the average household responsibility should the property tax pass — is a fair price for us all to pay for sustaining necessary services, including the primary ones to be funded: Public health and clean water; road, parks and trail maintenance; and law enforcement protection, courts and public safety. The list is long of local services that could be reduced or eliminated if the community does not take action, together.
Quality of life in our county is high, and the tax and levy are reasonable and moderate requests made on the body public to maintain that quality of life.