Kathie Eckman might have jeopardized her standing in the Bend Good Old Boys and Girls Club yesterday: She cast the deciding vote to repeal the meal exemption from the city's room tax.
Until a few weeks ago only a few hotel operators apparently knew about, and took advantage of, the exemption. It lets hotel owners deduct $10 per room when calculating the amount of room tax they owe the city if they provide a complimentary breakfast for guests.
Supporters of the loophole, such as Riverhouse owner Wayne Purcell, argued that the exemption gives them an important competitive advantage in attracting guests. But as a couple of city councilors pointed out last night, the guests often weren't getting the benefit of the exemption: Hotel owners were charging them the full tax and pocketing the exemption for themselves. Although it amounted to only about 90 cents per room per night, when you multiply that by several hundred rooms and 365 nights, it adds up.
The exemption "makes absolutely no sense, never did and still doesn't," Councilor Jim Clinton grumbled. "It's a loophole for questionable accounting" by hotel owners.
Councilors Tom Greene, Jeff Eager and Oran Teater - whose membership in the GOB&GC has never been in doubt - wanted to keep the exemption for at least another two years to see if the economy improves. Greene conceded that the exemption "probably shouldn't have been put in there then" when it was written into the law six years ago, but that eliminating it now would be "drastic" and make Bend hotels less competitive with those in the county, which has a slightly lower room tax rate and also gives a "food and activities" deduction.
The stunner came when Mayor Eckman, who had been expected to provide the fourth vote to keep the exemption in place, went in the other direction. She said she doesn't believe room tax rates really are much of a factor when people decide what hotel to book, and that if there are discrepancies between the county and city tax structures they should be dealt with on their own.
The final tally: Councilors Clinton, Jody Barram, Mark Capell and Eckman voted to eliminate the exemption, with Teater, Greene and Eager voting to keep it.
Which just goes to show, I guess, that Bend politics isn't quite as predictable as we thought. Although if this vote had been about a land use or development issue instead of a relatively trivial tax matter, this post might have had a different slant.