Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Council May Call a Vote on Controversial Room Tax Increase

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 8:18 PM

A long-standing feud between two factions of the tourism community is boiling over again this week. This time, the conflict is about whether to raise hotel room taxes.

The Bend City Council discussed whether to take the proposal to raise room taxes to the voters at its meeting on Wednesday night, but deferred a decision on that question to its next meeting on Feb. 6.

Right now, tourists pay 9 percent on top of the cost of renting a room for a night in taxes. That money goes to the city, which then sends 30 percent of it on to a group called Visit Bend.

Visit Bend is basically a marketing group with the sole mission of promoting Bend tourism that currently has a $1.2 million budget.

If the room tax, which is formally called a transient room tax, is increased Visit Bend will receive about $600,000 more per year to work with.

But a large group of hotel owners, like Wayne Purcell of the Riverhouse, have felt for some time that Visit Bend does not serve their needs and told the head of Visit Bend just that at a private and tense meeting earlier this week.

These hotel owners have criticized Visit Bend’s leadership for spending these room tax dollars on marketing to people that don’t use hotels like the Riverhouse or the affordable lodging options along Third Street.

Instead, critics of Visit Bend believe the organization markets to a more wealthy kind of tourist more likely to spend money at hotels such as the Oxford Hotel in downtown Bend.

Indeed, Ben Perle, the general manager of the Oxford, is a Visit Bend board of directors member.

Perle spoke to the Bend City Council on Wednesday night telling the council that even if some hotel owners disagree over how the marketing money is spent, every piece of Visit Bend marketing is good for every hotel in Bend because it markets the whole city.

But critics have said this week that it will hurt their businesses to increase taxes, particularly when they do not believe they receive benefits from the marketing attached to the increased tax.

Councilor Victor Chudowsky spoke on behalf of those hotel owners on Wednesday.

"This seems to benefit one segment of the hotel community but hurts the others,” said Chudowsky.

The council only heard from Perle and the owner of Pine Ridge Inn Hotel and Suites, who is also in favor of the increase in transient room taxes.

Mayor Jim Clinton told critics in the audience that he understood it looked unfair that it only spoke with these two men, but promised that next week’s discussion will serve all parties.

“I will guarantee that everybody that wants to talk about this will have a chance to do it,” said Clinton.

“Can I request a full pot of coffee that night,” quipped city councilor Jodie Barram in response.

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