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Sunriver officials may seek Deschutes County room tax dollars


The Sunriver Service District Board holds a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to review a proposal by the resort community’s police and fire chiefs to seek a share of Deschutes County room-tax revenues to deal with tourism-related expenses and other long-term needs.

Fire Chief Art Hatch and Police Chief Marc Mills said that since the county receives “a large majority of its transient room tax funds from Sunriver proper, due to short-term rentals, it only stands to reason that a portion of those funds be used to offset the costs of the significant impact those visitations have on service delivery” by the service district.

In the year ended last July, the resort properties contributed more than $3 million in county room tax revenues, or 62 percent of the total, they said.

“Consequently, it seems both appropriate and reasonable that the (service district) be able to recover a portion of those tax dollars to support operations and infrastructure to continue to provide essential public safety services to residents and visitors alike, without unreasonably burdening the taxpayers of Sunriver with the entire costs of those services,” the chiefs wrote.

The proposal lays out options that could include seeking a share of room taxes or assistance in infrastructure funding of up to $3.8 million, including a no- or low-interest loan, as well as some of the facts, figures and rationale that would go into making such a request.

Mark Murray, chairman of the board, said after Wednesday’s meeting that any discussion about the possibility of the service district seeking funds from the county is “premature.”

“The SSD Board has not had the opportunity to discuss this possibility with any county officials, elected or otherwise.” He said the board “discussed the need to speak with representatives from the county prior to finalizing any possible proposal.”

Brooke Snavely, editor of the Sunriver Scene, the Sunriver Owners Association’s monthly publication, said the managing board took no action Wednesday, only discussed edits to the proposal. They plan to meet again Monday at 1:30 p.m.”

Snavely noted that all revenue from the county’s room tax goes to the county’s general fund. About 70 percent of that goes to the sheriff’s office, 30 percent to the Central Oregon Visitors Association for tourism promotion and a small amount to the county fairgrounds.

The Sunriver Service District provides police, fire and emergency medical services to Sunriver, as well as a larger, 350-square-mile ambulance service district.

“The service district depends almost entirely on property tax revenues to support its operations,” the two chiefs said. It is “nearing the maximum property tax rate (of $3.45 per $1,000 in assessed value) it may impose, and its ability to provide essential services is being sorely tested by the increasing costs of providing these services.”

“Annually the Sunriver community is inundated with visitors who come here to vacation,” raising the year-round population of under 2,000 to about 20,000, the officials said. That results in a corresponding increase in calls for service and those costs, now paid for by Sunriver residents.

They also noted that the Sunriver Police Department saw a 44 percent jump in calls for service last year. “It is predicted that this activity level will be sustained or increased in the years to come,” they added.

The proposal notes added expenses during peak summer months, including two more full-time fire employees during the summer.

They also noted that the service district has been unable to generate revenues for capital costs required to maintain levels of services, including an estimated $3.5 million price tag for “badly needed improvements” to the resort’s fire station (Public Safety Building) and $300,000 for a planned training facility.

The proposal lays out four alternatives, one that proposes the county help fund renovation of the existing fire station and addition of a wing to that building to house the police department, and/or help fund the training facility for both departments.

Other options would be a low- or no-interest loan for the capital improvements, or a share of room tax revenues for the higher costs of operations resulting from visitations, such as a bike patrol that costs $75,000 a year.

If the county cannot help, the police and fire chiefs said the service district “will be forced, at an earlier date than necessary, to take the uncertain steps involved in seeking a voter-approved operating levy.” Such a levy would require renewal on a periodic basis, they said, which “can create uncertainty for future planning of the district.”

County Administrator Tom Anderson told NewsChannel 21 no county representative is planning to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

“Although we were not aware this specific proposal was being discussed at this time, the (service) district has made indications to the county in the past that a formal request for transient room tax funding may come to us at some point in the future,” Anderson wrote.

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