Rainy day funds — money set aside for tough times — can be a boon when those times come, as they inevitably do. Bend City Councilor Bill Moseley is right to want a rainy day fund for tourism, though the idea that the city should manage it could be a problem.
The city contracts with Visit Bend to promote tourism, and the contract extends to 2022. Its money comes largely from the tax the city and state charge on visitor lodging, and the percentage of what’s collected that’s spent on tourism is set in Oregon law.
Moseley proposes holding some of that money back for the inevitable economic downturn. Kevney Dugan, Visit Bend’s executive director, says his agency is considering doing that. The City Council, meanwhile, is expected to get suggestions on the subject before the end of the year.
The problem with having the city, rather than Visit Bend, control it is simple. Politics.
Tourism is getting a bad rap among some Bend residents. The city’s in fine economic shape, the argument goes, and the city can seem to be flooded with tourists. Why spend anything on bringing more visitors to the area? That kind of thinking may be attractive, but it ignores at least two things.
One, the city is obligated by law to spend a portion of lodging taxes on tourism. That percentage is relatively small: Of the roughly $10 million the city collected in lodging taxes last year, it kept more than $6.5 million. It later carved out another $350,000 for street work, as well.
Then, there’s the reality of tourism’s role in the region. It’s no small part of what has made Bend the community it is in the past several decades. And while some might long for the “good old days,” many of those complaining have lived here 20 years or less.
Having the city control the money would not change either of those realities. What it could do is create pressure to delay turning a rainy day fund over to those whose job it is to spend it.
All that argues for staying the course where tourism tax dollars are concerned. Better to do what the city has been doing, and turn the tourism dollars over to Visit Bend or, if officials are unhappy with the job the agency is doing, someone else, when it’s time to renew the Visit Bend contract. If the agency agrees with the need for a rainy day fund, it will no doubt establish one.