CANNON BEACH — A controversial food tax has passed by only four votes.

Clatsop County certified the Nov. 2 election on Monday. The measure’s slim lead held at 379 votes to 375. The margin, tight as it is, is not enough to trigger an automatic recount. However, people have until Dec. 7 to submit a request for a recount with the state.

Food tax

Many Cannon Beach restaurant owners opposed the food tax approved by voters earlier this month.

The 5% tax applies to prepared food sold at restaurants and similar businesses. Revenue generated by the tax — an estimated $1.7 million annually — will be split between the city and the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District. The city plans to use its portion of the money to help fund a new City Hall and police station. For the fire district, the money will go toward operational costs.

Consumers won’t start to see the tax on their bills until next summer. But for city staff and elected officials, who had been waiting for the election to be certified, work on how to actually implement the tax must begin soon.

“There’s a lot of work to do between now and then,” Mayor Sam Steidel said.

The reasons for the tax have been debated in Cannon Beach since the measure was first proposed. Now that the tax is moving forward, Steidel said officials need to make sure the rollout is clear and understandable to the community.

“This is something new so we want to get it right,” Steidel said. “We want to do it properly and openly.”

The tax dominated City Council meetings for months, but it was a big item that involved other big items, such as a new City Hall. Though city councilors settled on rebuilding at the location of the present City Hall facility, that discussion is still in its infancy, Steidel said.

Then there is the question of how to budget the food tax. City officials are gearing up to prepare the next fiscal year’s budget, but it is still unknown how the tax revenue will be accounted for in those documents. The fire district and the city are not sure what to expect in revenue returns in the early months of the tax.

The food tax is meant to target tourist dollars. It was promoted as a way to get visitors to help cover the costs of needed infrastructure upgrades in the city and rising calls for emergency services.

Proponents emphasized the pass-through nature of the tax and believe businesses that administer the tax will not suffer as a result. Visitors, they argue, probably won’t even notice. Many visitors travel to Cannon Beach from areas that already have sales taxes, they said.

But business owners argued that administering the tax will bring additional costs and the tax could be a deterrent to customers. They worry about the overall impact after nearly two years of pandemic-related restrictions and disruptions.

The City Council had considered passing the tax as an ordinance. City Councilor Robin Risley pushed for the matter to go to voters and ultimately voted with the majority to put the tax on the November ballot.

“I felt it was a big enough issue that the citizens should make that decision,” she said.

To her, the close vote justified this approach: It showed just how important the issue was to the community, she said.

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