Last week, like most weeks during the summer in Bend, thousands of tourists poured into town. There were the Phish shows; two nights that pulled thousands of fans from across the Northwest to Les Schwab Amphitheater. And, there was the Cascade Cycling Classic, a five-stage road bike race that attracted a different crowd; hundreds of top-level cyclists and legions of wine-sipping spectators.
What those events had in common is that they generated tens of thousands of dollars for private business-owners. (As a rough estimate, studies place the amount that each individual tourist spends on lodging, food, tour guides, etc. around $200 daily.)
Yes, Bend is doing a remarkable job organizing and hosting events—events that draw tens of thousands to our city and create a robust revenue flow for our local businesses. With an increased number of shows, including Phish and Willie Nelson, this is perhaps the best summer season for Les Schwab Amphitheater ever. The Cascade Lakes Relay this weekend (see Outside, page 35) will draw thousands of runners this weekend, and a growing number of beer festivals keep a constant flow of tourists here, not to mention the everyday charms, from mountain biking to skiing.
Yes, Bend is a destination spot.
But, there is some saying about not paying for the cow when the milk is free that seems relevant for the public services here. By not implementing a gas tax and without implementing a restaurant tax—both taxes that rightfully charge users, not the general population, for the amenities in our city—the City is leaving millions on the table, and in the pockets of tourists, as opposed to having them pay for their use of our roads, sidewalks, and public infrastructure.
A year ago, voters in Bend wisely approved a small increase to the Transient Room Tax, a 10.4 percent tax charged to lodgers. That increase has generated funds to help support firefighters and to pay for marketing for cultural events in order to bring more revenue to Bend. It is a smart, self-sustaining tax, and one that wisely leverages tourism as a means to pay for public services.
But there are more salient opportunities that are being missed—and, in the process, placing the responsibility for paying for crumbling infrastructure on residents rather than on tourists.
Front and center is implementing a gas tax. City Council is currently considering putting a per gallon gas tax to pay for much-needed road repairs on the ballot—and, we agree that this is the best and wisest way to connect use with maintenance.
In News this week (page 7), Mayor Jim Clinton explains that "no tax has a better connection between the users of the roads and the money needed to maintain the pavement." He adds, "There are no good arguments against a fuel tax to fund road maintenance."
There is no real viable debate that the roads do not need repair (again, see, News, page 7, in which reports and public surveys are discussed). To simply improve current road conditions from "poor" to "good" will require $5 million each year for the next five years. One option—that Mayor Clinton and we favor—is to implement a 10 cent per gallon tax.
If not that, City Council will need to consider other options, like squeezing more money from the general fund (and, most likely, in the process forcing layoffs for police and fire) or a utility fee—the later of which would be an additional charge on all water and sewer bills, with those funds earmarked for transportation improvements; and which, most notably, would place the funding responsibility on road repairs on homeowners and renters rather than sharing that burden with tourists.
It is likely that City Council will make a decision on August 5 whether to place the gas tax on the November ballot. We hope that they do.