Editorial: Smart moves on tourism tax

Any proposed change in Bend’s lodging tax is going to make some people unhappy. But the Bend City Council made some smart moves on the tax last week.

The council slowed the process down. It directed stakeholders to come up with a compromise or better concept. The council put pressure on them to bring something back before a deadline of July 10.

On Wednesday night, councilors were scheduled to vote on a proposal to increase Bend’s portion of the lodging tax by 2 percentage points, from 9 percent to 11 percent. The total collected would go from 10 percent to 12 percent, because the state also collects 1 percent.

The purpose of the increase, according to its supporters, is to generate more money to bring more tourists to Bend through advertising, especially in the leaner winter season. The increase would drive up revenues by some $600,000 for tourism and $250,000 to the city’s general fund.

It’s an idea with charms and flaws, but no lack of interest.

Supporters and opponents can agree on improving Bend’s tourism economy, but they disagree or worry about the impact of a tax change. There will likely be more people who think about vacationing in Bend in the winter with a strong advertising campaign. But some hotel owners — large and small — don’t believe it will help their business in a significant enough way to overcome the price sensitivity of their customers.

One of the biggest tourism draws for Bend in the winter is Mt. Bachelor ski area. And Dave Rathbun, Mt. Bachelor’s president, is not sure an increase in the tax will actually help. That should give anyone pause about supporting the tax.

What is encouraging is that as the council decided to slow things down, some supporters and opponents have set out to collaborate to hunt a compromise. Doug La Placa of Bend’s tourism agency Visit Bend, a supporter of the tax increase, and Rathbun, an opponent, are setting up meetings. There is scheduled to be one meeting open to the public at 5 p.m. today at Bend’s Municipal Court located at 555 N.E. 15th St. That meeting will be moderated. Other meetings currently scheduled are not going be open to the public.

The council is already looking into doing a better job of collecting revenue from many vacation rentals. And councilors have responded to community concerns to try to ensure there may be a better measure on the ballot.