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Possible tax hikes coming to parts of Lincoln County for more police for Siletz and a new “event center” in Newport

Lincoln County Commission Wednesday

Lincoln County Commission
Wednesday

New tax proposals on May ballot

Lincoln County Commissioners put a couple of tax increase proposals on the May 17th ballot – one for raising tourist room taxes on hotels/motels/VRDs (vacation rental dwellings) by 1% – the other for raising property taxes within the Siletz Fire Protection District by a dollar-31 per thousand of assessed value.

In the case of the 1% increase in tourist room taxes, the extra one percent (going from 9% per night to 10% per night) would raise money to help subsidize the proposed “Lincoln County Commons” facility at the county fairgrounds next to Newport High School. The building would weigh in at around 9 million dollars and would be used for special events like the county fair, 4-H events – also for attracting groups and organizations that would like to hold conferences on the coast, sporting events, concerts, other special events and attractions.

The county already has a million and a half dollars in reserves specifically for a special events center because the current fairgrounds facility is not only on its last legs, it’s down on one knee and very expensive to maintain – some calling it throwing good maintenance money after bad. And partially for that reason the city of Newport is willing to chip in quite a lot of city urban renewal funds into the new “Commons” project as well. They, like the county, figure the facility would become a regional economic development resource so that it would help drive visitorship to the coast and would be professionally managed to maximum a combination of business as well as regular tourist users.

Commissioner Bill Hall said he sees the facility being a positive economic driver for the whole county – not just for Newport. Commissioner Doug Hunt echoed Hall’s thoughts but expressed some reservations whether the facility would ever financially break even. He said the annual subsidy from county funds could run anywhere between $35,000 and perhaps even as much as $65,000 a year – a lot of money – but which is a lot less than what the facility is currently costing the county to keep it up and running. Hall chimed in that the current buildings and grounds won’t last very much longer, so it’s whether the county wants to have such a facility for future generations.

A couple of bed and breakfast operators testified their opposition to the proposed increase. One Bn’B owner located in Yachats said her Bn’B would become 2% higher priced than Bn’Bs in nearby Florence. Diane Disse of Ocean Creek Bed and Breakfast said the county should be showing better leadership by transforming the fairgrounds into affordable housing or putting fairgrounds maintenance savings into taking better care of county roads.

Commissioner Terry Thompson was obviously conflicted about it. But his trademark hard-nosed attitude about avoiding a possible high priced future expense for country taxpayers made him vote no. The measure passed 2 to 1, which means the room tax hike will appear on the May 17th ballot. All voters in the county get to vote on it. Again, the higher 1% room tax, if approved, affects only those hotels, motels and vacation rentals that are located outside the city limits of the county’s seven cities.

Proposed new Siletz area police protection district.  Same boundaries as the Siletz Fire Protection District.  $1.31/thousand of assessed value increase.

Proposed new Siletz area police protection district. Same boundaries as the Siletz Fire Protection District. $1.31/thousand of assessed value increase.

The County Commissioners put another proposed tax hike on the May 17th ballot – this one a property tax increase of $1.31/thousand of assessed valuation for those living within the Siletz Fire Protection District. Many residens out there want enhanced law enforcement protection for themselves and for their properties. They say Siletz has more than its share of property crime and drug problems and they want something done about it. The proposal is one very similar to what’s been in effect for quite a while in Waldport. The enhanced law enforcement coverage envisioned for the Siletz area entails 80 hours of patrol coverage by the Sheriff’s Office split between two new sheriff’s deputies. Additional funds were pledged by the Siletz Tribes to help keep the tax hike to a minimum. Again, it’s on the May 17th ballot and will be voted on only by registered voters living inside the Siletz Fire Protection District.

South County Water Utility on May ballot as well

The commissioners put one more issue on the May 17th ballot, but it doesn’t raise any taxes. It’s a ballot measure to change the status of the Southwest Lincoln County Water District serving areas just outside the Waldport City limits on the south end, except for a small area just inside the city limits. Voters are being asked whether they approve of renaming their water district to a People’s Utility District. Again no tax issue connected with the change – the utility gets its revenues strictly from water bills mailed every month to their customers. So no property taxes are even contemplated.

NOAA/HMSC/Sea Grant collaborating to create a "Pacific Ocean Education Center" at HMSC.

NOAA/HMSC/Sea Grant collaborating to create a “Pacific Ocean Education Center” at HMSC.

Getting more tourism mileage out of huge marine science complex at South Beach

And finally Mark Farley of Sea Grant presented another idea that would help boost local tourism in the Newport area- something called the “Pacific Ocean Education Center,” to be located near the Hatfield Marine Science Center and the NOAA headquarters. Farley said the idea materialized between some federal Sea Grant employees and County Commissioner Terry Thompson who have long-lamented that visitors to the HMSC Visitors Center, although offering excellent exposure to educational displays of marine science and research, it could be improved upon to draw more visitors to the Newport area. And thus was born the idea of the Pacific Ocean Education Center.

Farley said there are many marine science research programs that go on everyday at HMSC in conjunction with NOAA that dock their large ships, but nobody but the scientists NOAA officers get to see them up close. Thompson chimed in saying that a new educationally interactive addition to the campus would go a long way to greatly enhance public awareness of marine studies that are ever-more critical in these days of climate change and ocean conditions. Farley added that a new, tourist-firendly center could also raise awareness of what to do in the event of the Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake that scientists say may strike within our lifetime. He said should the quake strike, the new facility would enable visitors to evacuate up…vertical evacuation…to a higher floor and be able to watch the tsunami, much like the Japanese did in 2011 when their local version of a subduction zone earthquake hit their coast.

Farley said the new Ocean Center could be funded from a variety of sources as was the ocean center facility that was added to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Thompson said at this point it’s only an idea, but an idea whose time may be at hand. “There’s one on the east coast – why not have one on the west coast,” he said. “It would draw more families to the coast who are interested in the ocean and enhance our tourism industry at the same time,” he added.

So we’ll see how long this takes to go from the idea stage to a new Pacific Ocean Education Center ribbon-cutting.

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