Neither candidate for Wallowa County Commissioner supports raising the county Transient Lodging Tax. The idea was originally floated as a way to support the Sheriff’s Department and fund improvements at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds.
Both candidates weighed in on the issue during a forum May 1 in Joseph.
Bruce Dunn said he had given the issue a lot of thought.
“I’ve thought about this, and I see both sides of it,” he said. “I fought this issue over in my mind. It’s a difficult issue to answer. But, I feel you have to be consistent, and I don’t like taxes. I don’t think you should have to pay more taxes. I think you should find other solutions.”
Diane Daggett also stated other solutions should be sought.
“I’m opposed to the increase in the tax as it is currently configured and as it was proposed,” she said. “I think it could have an adverse impact on our tourism economy and the businesses that collect that tax. Great ideas were generated at the first transient lodging tax discussion meeting. We can’t come at this too quickly, and we can’t come at it without having conversations with the sector that is impacted the most –– we have to be smart.”
Around 25 individuals attended the forum at Outlaw Restaurant, sponsored by the Joseph Chamber of Commerce.
In other business-related issues, the candidates discussed how the board of commissioners could help grow local businesses.
The question was preceded by a brief outline of the struggles Joseph businesses were having in competing with online marketing.
Dunn suggested that businesses meet the competition by creating their own online shopping pages.
Daggett reminded the group that in Wallowa County economic success involved the “three-legged stool of agriculture, forestry and tourism” using the example of the impact of smoke from forest fires on tourism.
She recommended further investigation of the economic problem, pointing out that the chamber has worked hard to increase tourism and asked if the county were investing hotel motel taxes in the best way to draw tourists.
Another business-related issue –– affordable housing –– was also discussed, particularly how county government might be able to help.
Dunn pointed out that taking on the risk of new housing development was a free enterprise decision.
“I think though we need to realize that if we’re going to keep family wage-earning jobs here, we have to have affordable housing for those folks,” he said. “There is a possibility of getting together with the cities and having affordable housing subdivisions ...”
Daggett identified the issue as one of the “wicked issues” that the county faced.
“There are so many issues at play when we look at the lack of affordable housing ... it is a core issue. In play are the cost of construction: It costs more to build something here than it pencils to be a rental. In play is the lack of contractors: Our contractors, some of them, are (scheduled) three years out.”
Daggett, who participated in a series of community discussions on the topic in the spring, said the solution was cooperation.
“We need to find creative solutions,” she said. “County commissioners should be working closely with cities and asking the question, ‘what do your planning and zoning ordinances look like right now?’ and ‘are they aligned with what people are wanting?’”