Bend puts a lower priority on enforcing several ordinances, such as those governing lawn watering, sidewalk clearing and invasive weed control.
Those could all be important. Instead of actively seeking out violations, the city relies on complaints to drive enforcement.
It’s not a perfect solution, but neither is raising taxes to hire a fleet of code enforcement officers to crack down when there have been serious concerns about funding other city responsibilities, including fire protection.
We would like to see the city do a better job of cracking down on people who run vacation rentals and are not paying the lodging tax.
The city recently began an audit that suggests that at least 84 vacation rental homes in Bend are not paying the city lodging tax. The auditing firm, MuniServices LLC, said a total of 374 vacation rentals operate in the city. Because the 84 rentals are not paying, the city is perhaps not collecting about $150,000 a year.
Those numbers are initial estimates based on what MuniServices could discern from looking at vacation rental websites.
There has been some concern that if the city gets aggressive in seeking the taxes it is owed, it could undermine support for a November ballot measure to raise the city’s lodging tax. What people may or may not do at the ballot box should not stop the city from requiring people to pay their taxes. As Councilor Mark Capell said, not collecting the taxes could also encourage people not to vote for the ballot measure.
“If we’re not collecting what we’re supposed to be collecting, why would I support an increase in collections?” Capell said.
Indeed, the vacation rental businesses that follow the law are being penalized because they are being responsible citizens. The vacation rentals may also be skipping out on other responsibilities. For instance, a bed and breakfast would be required to get an annual fire inspection if it serves more than two families at a time. Fire inspections by the Bend Fire Department are free. The department will even give a business a free consultation if it has other questions or concerns.
Lodging tax money helps promote tourism and the city’s general fund, which pays for public safety.
Don’t let businesses evade paying their taxes. They hurt their community.