County plans public budget meeting to unveil voter tax measures
County plans public budget meeting to unveil voter tax measures Hood River County Board of Commissioners has scheduled a public information meeting for Thursday, February 21 at Hood River Valley High School commons/cafeteria space to educate the public on the county’s financial strains, as well as share information and take questions about the county’s proposed tax measures planned for the May ballot.
The informational meeting, which will be drop-in format from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., will include material presented and received from two budget workshops held by the county last fall. Approximately 125 individuals attended the workshops to learn about the county’s budget, its financial constraints, and offer input on solutions.
The top solution identified at the workshops was a prepared food and beverage (F&B) tax (which would exclude alcoholic beverages). Sixty-five percent of attendees supported a 5% F&B tax as their first or second choice among five possible solutions. A general retail sales tax (excluding groceries and prescription drugs) was the second most popular solution, followed by a Local Operating Levy (local option) which garnered support at various levels of taxation ($0.50, $1.00 and $1.50 per $1,000 property valuation).
“We hope to reach even more people at this February 21 meeting, and we plan to demonstrate to the public the board’s rationale for proceeding with two ballot measures in May,” stated Board Chairman Mike Oates. “Although I’m new to the commission, the county budget crisis is not news to me. My colleagues have worked hard to spare taxpayers the burden of more taxation, but with reserves depleted, we have no other options but to raise more revenue or drastically reduce services.”
County Commissioners have been deliberating on draft resolutions to adopt in order to place two measures on the May 21st ballot. A 5% prepared food and beverage tax would be collected from purchasers of prepared food and drinks (excluding alcoholic beverages), served by Press Release restaurants, to-go sections of markets or delis, and catering operators, all for immediate consumption. If approved, the tax would be effective beginning January 1, 2020.
The F&B tax was chosen as one that could share the tax burden among county residents and visitors and would be dedicated to funding services used by both. Those services include public safety recreational response, county trails and parks, environmental health (which includes restaurant, lodging, pool and hot tub inspections that ensure the public’s safe food, water and lodging), road maintenance, and support for the History Museum of Hood River County.
A local option levy is currently under consideration for .89 per $1,000 property valuation. Revenue raised through the levy would avoid specific reductions in public health and public safety. Public Health includes funding for the OSU Extension services, Veterans’ services, school health services, family planning, medical examiner services, and disease prevention services. Public Safety funding would cover juvenile rehabilitation, District Attorney prosecution services, jail operations, law enforcement, animal control, courthouse security, civil deputy services, emergency management, and funding for the school resource officer program.
Hood River County’s permanent tax rate is currently $1.41 per $1000 of taxable assessed value, the ninth lowest rate of 36 Oregon counties. The county receives only 10% of the total property taxes assessed, with 90% going to other taxing jurisdictions. If the local option levy is approved, the county could receive up to $2.30 per $1,000 valuation ($1.41 permanent rate plus .89 from local option). If F&B tax revenue exceeds needs, the Board of Commissioners could choose to reduce the local option tax rate.
In financial planning, the county identified $5.3 million of unmet need to balance its budget without dipping into reserves while maintaining county services at acceptable levels as determined by the Board of Commissioners. The board has scaled back that amount to $3.9 million. If both measures pass, the county estimates approximately $1.8 million could be collected annually from a F&B tax, and $2.1 million could be collected from a local option levy. The local option levy would expire in five years unless renewed by voters.
More county budget information can be found at the “Budget Workshop” link on the county website (co.hood-river.or.us) in both English and Spanish.