The Deschutes County Board of Commissioners spent a large sum of unallocated Transient Room Tax funding at its meeting Jan. 12, giving $600,000 to the Deschutes Trails Coalition for trail infrastructure and maintenance and $8 million towards a public safety building to house police and fire services in Sunriver.
In Deschutes County about 30% of TRT goes toward tourism promotion via the Central Oregon Visitors Association and tourism-related facilities. The remaining 70% is allocated for general county purposes including the Sheriff's Office, Administrative Costs, capital reserves and an unallocated fund to be spent at the County's discretion.
- Courtesy of the Sunriver Service District
- The Sunriver Service District would like to upgrade its police and fire facilities into one building.
The unallocated fund is the largest and fueled by a boom in the past few years that saw TRT collections up nearly 50% in 2021. It was largely fueled by tourism to Sunriver, which contributes about half of all the county's TRT collections.
"We're not a city, we can't impose any room taxes, so all the room taxes that are generated in Sunriver, and other parts of unincorporated Deschutes County, go to the county," said Debbie Baker, Board Administrator for the Sunriver Service District. "That was the nexus for us, because we're not able to impose those taxes... the funds generated in our area have gone into this pot."
The service district said its police and fire facilities currently don't meet industry standards and can be overly burdened when nearly 30,000 tourists visit over the summer. The police station is essentially an office space; it doesn't have showers, decontamination facilities, holding cells, booking equipment or adequate security measures. The fire department lacks gender-specific sleeping facilities or adequate decontamination facilities, Baker explained. The new building would house both these services under a single roof.
"Our vision is to take the fire station and remodel it to meet those deficiencies that are existing or to mitigate those deficiencies, and include the police department in one building, and also create a community space as well," Baker said.
The service building is funded through three main pools of money: $8 million from the county's unallocated TRT fund, $3 million from Sunriver's reserves and a voter-dependent 10-year capital improvement levy for $7 million that will be on Sunriver's ballots in May.
The Deschutes Trails Coalition's $600,000 funding will establish a grant program for trail maintenance. The Deschutes National Forest spends a little over $1 million annually on trail maintenance, but DTC coordinator Jana Johnson said there's a $10 million backlog of projects that federal funding fails to address.
"Trails are a primary reason people come to Central Oregon to live, to recreate and to vacation. Our trails are being impacted by several factors such as increased use as well as climate change, and we know that existing trail funding opportunities are not keeping pace with maintenance and infrastructure needs," Johnson told commissioners during the meeting.
The grant program the funding establishes is meant to fill holes in the patchwork of public and private funding that maintain trails now, particularly in trails that aren't "shovel-ready."
"Because these funds are unrestricted they can be used to fund things other funding sources just aren't able to, most grants require proposals for shovel-ready projects, but how do projects that require planning and analysis and design to become shovel ready get to that point without additional funding?" Johnsons said.
DTC requested annual funding, but the Deschutes County commissioners requested it be revisited after a year to learn more about progress made on the trail system.