Council to discuss Transient Lodging Tax

Samantha O'Conner, Baker City Herald, Ore.
·3 min read

Feb. 22—At Mayor Kerry McQuisten's request, the Baker City Council when it meets Tuesday, Feb. 23 will discuss the possibility of ending a nearly 15-year-old agreement with Baker County regarding collection of lodging taxes that guests at motels, bed and breakfasts and vacation rental homes pay.

Tuesday's meeting starts at 7 o'clock at City Hall, 1655 First St.

Were the City Council to sever that deal, the city would become responsible for spending lodging taxes collected within the city limits.

In the 2018-19 fiscal year, guests at lodging establishments within the city paid about $244,000 in the tax, which is 7% of the room rate.

In the 2017-18 fiscal year the tax generated $349,000 within the city limits.

Under the current agreement between the city and county, which dates to July 1, 2006, the county oversees the tax collection both in Baker City and elsewhere in the county where the tax is collected.

Based on a county ordinance, the largest share of the revenue — 70% — must be spent for tourism promotion. Another 25% goes to economic development, and the county keeps 5% for administrative expenses.

A seven-member Lodging Tax Committee recommends how to spend the 70% of the tax revenue for tourism promotion; county commissioners have the final say.

The county's budget for the current fiscal year, which ends July 1, allocates $45,000 for economic development in Baker City, and $30,000 for economic development elsewhere in the county.

McQuisten said the issue of how the city might spend lodging tax money paid within the city, should councilors decide to cancel the agreement with the county, is "getting the cart before the horse."

"This agenda item addresses whether to terminate this (agreement) and take management back into the city, leave it with the county, or ask for more information," McQuisten said.

If councilors chose to cancel the agreement with the county, the city would need to approve a new lodging tax ordinance and appoint a new committee, she said.

"The details inside those two steps would help set the direction of the funds," McQuisten said.

In other business Tuesday, councilors will revisit an issue raised during their Feb. 9 meeting — whether the entire Council, or the mayor alone, appoints volunteers to boards and commissions.

McQuisten on Feb. 9 appointed two members to the Golf Board, one member to the Tree Board and one member to the Historic District Design Review Commission, rather than having the entire seven-member Council vote on the appointments as in the past.

McQuisten cited a section in the city charter that states "the mayor shall appoint the various committees provided for under the rules of the council or otherwise."

In a written opinion sent to City Manager Jonathan Cannon, the city's legal counsel, Dan Van Thiel, wrote that in his opinion, based on a review of the city charter, the City Council appoints members to boards and commissions authorized by a city ordinance, while the mayor appoints members to committees "that are provided for under the rules of the Council or otherwise."

Because the Tree Board, Golf Board and Design Review Commission were authorized by ordinance, their members should be appointed by the Council, not by the mayor alone, based on Van Thiel's analysis.

Appointments to those boards are included on the Council's agenda for tonight's meeting.