The work group reviewing Baker County’s lodging tax system hopes to have a draft request for proposals for the visitor services contract — the issue that prompted the group’s formation in March — for public review by early July.

The six-member group met on Wednesday, April 14.

Bill Harvey, chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners and one of the county’s three representatives on the work group, said early July is the tentative goal for finishing the request for proposals.

County commissioners voted on March 3 to propose the work group to the city.

Commissioners also voted to extend the current visitor services contract, with the Baker County Chamber of Commerce, through Aug. 31.

Commissioners had intended to award a new contract in February 2020. The county received two proposals, from the Chamber of Commerce and from Anthony Lakes.

Although the county’s Lodging Tax Committee and Economic Development Committee both recommended commissioners award the contract to Anthony Lakes, commissioners decided to delay awarding the contract.

Then, in the fall of 2020, commissioners decided to restart the process and create a new request for proposals (RFP).

The city/county work group was tasked with drafting that proposal as well as considering other potential changes to the lodging tax system that’s been in place since 2006.

Guests at motels, bed and breakfasts, RV parks, vacation rental homes, campgrounds and other lodging establishments pay a 7% tax. The tax is collected in Baker City, some other incorporated cities, including Halfway and Sumpter, and in unincorporated parts of the county. The tax generated about $440,000 in the most recent fiscal year.

Baker City manager Jon Cannon, one of the city’s three members on the work group, said the group has been discussing visitor services, tourism marketing and event coordination.

The current lodging tax ordinance requires that 70% of the tax revenue be spent for tourism promotion and 25% for economic development. The county, which oversees the tax program, can keep up to 5% for administrative costs.

“We already have a contract in place for marketing,” Cannon said (with Timothy Bishop). “I think if we write up a good RFP for event coordination and visitors services, and then we kind of look at the mix of our TLT committee to make sure that everybody in the county and city is well represented, and then kind of put it back into play from there, I think that simplifies the structure a lot and addresses the things that our TLT ordinance says it wants us to do as well as our strategic plan wants us to do.”

Cannon’s reference to the TLT committee has to do with potential changes to its membership.

Now, the seven-member committee includes one lodging establishment operator, a city official appointed by the Baker City Council, a member appointed by the economic Development Committee, and four at-large members.

“I think it’s important you have a cross section of the right folks within those industries and different types of folks that are affected by TLT,” said Martin Arritola, chairman of the Economic Development Committee and one of the county’s three representatives on the work group.

“We just want willing bodies, number one, hopefully in the same category that we’re trying to fill. And that doesn’t always happen,” Harvey said.

A possible change the work group discussed would have the Baker City Council appoint three members:

• A lodging business owner or representative

• a tourism industry representative

• a city official

“If we got a downtown business that wants to join the committee and we don’t have a slot with one of these other businesses then we could do that,” said Joanna Dixon, a Baker City Council member and one of the city’s three members on the work group.

The County Commissioners would appoint four members:

• A lodging business owner or representative

• a member of the Economic Development Committee

• a restaurant owner or representative

• an at-large member

Jason Brandt, president of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, has been participating by phone with the work group during its meetings.

Brandt said that ideally, a majority of the lodging tax committee members will be in positions where they see firsthand the results of the work that’s done with tax revenue, including tourism marketing and event coordination.

In addition to the RFP for visitor services, the work group is discussing a separate request for proposals for a person who would operate what Harvey described as an “event clearinghouse.”

The contractor could help organizers coordinate their events to avoid conflicts.

Cannon said it would be helpful to have a person responsible for helping with events.

“It also makes it easy for if someone calls City Hall and says, I got a call today, ‘hey, I have this great idea for a golf tournament,’ I can say ‘You know what, you need to call this person and they’ll tell when the weekends are available,’ that’s how I see it,” Cannon said.

Harvey said the event coordination contractor also would be asked to help volunteers get events started.

The position would not be a year-round position the first year but could develop into one.

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