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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

More Salt in Wound for Tourism Feud

Posted By on Wed, Jun 5, 2013 at 10:43 PM

HERE’S THE SITUATION: A lot of hotel owners, like Wayne Purcell of the Riverhouse and others who own properties on Third Street, are pretty ticked at the city tonight.

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED FIRST: Last February, Visit Bend and a group of other hoteliers came to the city asking to take a measure to the ballot letting voters decide whether to increase the city’s transient room tax rate by two percent.

This is good for Visit Bend and many tourism and arts-based ventures in town because the increase will bring in more cash for tourism marketing, according to Visit Bend representatives and tourism-based business owners. The extra money from the increase in tax will also direct major dollars to the city emergency services.

The proposal is bad, however, from the point of view of Purcell and many other hoteliers because they believe the increase in rate will cut back on visitors. That’s especially true of large conferences, such as those that might come to the Riverhouse but could be deterred by a higher tax rate. In addition, many hotel owners don’t feel Visit Bend markets to the kinds of folks that would fill their beds.

At that February meeting, the city pledged to create a committee that would navigate the conflict, possibly finding a solution that could work for all parties, before deciding whether to put the tax increase question on the ballot.

THEN THIS HAPPENED: Tonight, a nine-member committee of people representing Visit Bend, the arts community and the city fire and police departments came before the council again to tell them why this should question should go to the ballot.

The big issue, though, is that the city never followed up on that smaller committee, which was supposed to help bring in the voices of the people frustrated by an increase in the tax.

Purcell told the council he was “shocked” and disappointed that the council would again hear from the pro-tax team without drawing in the opposers as the city said it would.

“I just don’t think that’s right,” said Purcell.

Members of the nine-member committee at the council meeting gave a strong presentation in favor of putting the tax question on the ballot, saying that all the issues have been discussed and it’s time to let the voters decide.

“We have talked this thing in circles,” said Visit Bend director Doug La Placa. “Everyone is entrenched.”

AND THEN THE COUNCIL MADE A DECISION: The council decided it will hold a public hearing on whether to take the tax increase to the ballot. Any member of the public may testify at this hearing slated to be held June 19 at City Hall.

But to ensure that all voices have been heard on this issue, the council will also hold a roundtable on June 17 just for members of the tourism community.

Victor Chudowsky noted that one of the questions that could still be discussed is whether some of the increased taxes could be directed toward markets from which all hotel owners feel they may benefit.

Stay tuned.

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