OP/ED: Analysis of Increase in County Parks Day Use Fees (Series 1 of 3)

www.tillamookcountypioneer.net

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sue Aalykke contacted the Pioneer several weeks ago about gathering information and questions about the County’s recent increase in county park/parking and boat ramp fees in 2021. Aalykke had sent a letter to the editor – call to action – https://www.tillamookcountypioneer.net/call-for-action-ask-county-commissioners-to-reconsider-park-fees-increase/ and since then she has done her research about funding for parks, TLT funds and more. Aalykke has approached this review starting with the problem statement (#1); the value of wellness (#2) and Solutions (#3). To express your concerns about this issue you can e-mail: publiccomments@co.tilamook.or.us These comments will then be given to all County Commissioners and will become part of the public record. You can also e-mail JoAnn Woelfle executive director of Tillamook County parks at jwoelfle@co.tillamook.or.us It is not too late to have this order reversed. Ask to have a public vote on this issue and a vote on whether to add the new areas. Please share.
Here is the first in a series of guest columns about the County’s park fee increases, the problem statement.

By Susan Aalykke, Tillamook
Tillamook County has experienced an increase in tourists of epic portions since the Pandemic started in March of 2020. Since many campground areas were closed or semi-closed, as they still are, it caused a concentration of people in the open outdoor spaces. This also could be influenced by the media blitz the last 3 years by Visit the Tillamook Coast. Due to this influx county services, infrastructure and law enforcement has been overwhelmed and funding is considered inadequate to deal with the issue. Although the county has acknowledged that this is a poor time to add more fees on the Oct 14th audio of the workshop. I will add it the wrong time because of the struggles people are experiencing financially due to the pandemic, jobs reduced/ lost, children home more, lack of federal government response, stress of unusual weather events, fires in our county, political climate, and civil unrest. This has affected the physical and mental health of people, here, across the country and world. Outdoor activities which allow for social distancing are the best way to avoid contracting COVID and help deal with the unusual stress 2020 has given us.

The Tillamook County Wellness program, which the county has promoted and received a state award for, has encouraged citizens to focus on these healthy endeavors. Law enforcement has stressed something needs to be done now in order to search for individuals who would be right for the job. It has been determined that 1-2 more deputies are needed for south county. This appears to one reason fees are to be raised. In addition, TBC have entered into an agreement to purchase land known as the Jensen property, in Pacific City for $3.25 million dollars. TLT funds and proposed parking fees will pay for much of this cost. Tillamook County Parks was taken out of the general fund for tax revenue in 2009-10. They were told to become self-supporting. Therefore, the taxes we pay do not support Tillamook County Parks in this manner. We do pay in our property taxes for law enforcement, roads and the people in county government who make these decisions. South county voted down a slight increase in their property taxes to pay for the added need for safety and law enforcement a few years ago.

Tillamook County board of Commissioners did not put out a media notice advertising that their meetings were now open to the public in person or via tele-conference. They did the minimum required by law, legal notice in the newspaper announcing a meeting and posted meeting notices on their web site. Citizen input was not asked for to address this issue. There were articles in both Headlight Herald and Tillamook County Pioneer in August which discussed the epic influx of visitors throughout the county and the problems it has created. Graphic pictures brought this message home. Each of these articles stated Bill Baertlin suggested a $10.00/vehicle day use access fee for county owned properties but did not explain how he came up with this fee.

An order was signed on October 14th by Board of Commissioners to implement a $10.00/vehicle day use access fee for 32 of 37 county properties. This is to start January 1,2021. In addition, annual pass fees are also raised. More county properties were added including access to Barview County Park day use access to the bar and beach, Happy Camp beach access and Bay Ocean Peninsula. The day use fee increase is a 150% increase from 2019 and a 400% increase from the inception in 2010. The annual fee is an 83.5% increase from the inception in 2010. It started at $30.00 and will be increased to $55.00 with discounts for various groups like senior citizens, disabled, and veterans. Presently the annual fee is $45.00. These fees are to be paid if you want to walk, swim, throw sticks for your dog in the water, fish, kayak, sunbath whatever. For those people who kayak or drift boat down- stream you will pay day use access fees at your launch point and take-out point.

THIS DAY USE ACCESS FEE IS 100% HIGHER AND THE ANNUAL FEE IS 83.5% HIGHER THAN ANY COUNTY PARK DEPARTMENT ON THE ENTIRE OREGON COAST and Columbia County’ day use fee. The day use access fees in every other county on the coast is $5.00/vehicle, $30.00 annual fee, except Douglas county who charges $4.00/vehicle. None of these counties plan to raise their fees in 2021. Oregon State Parks charge a day use fee for 25 of the 110 state parks in Oregon. It is $5.00/vehicle. The annual fee is $30.00, $50.00 for 2 years. The Tillamook Board of Commissioners say they are not trying to affect the locals, yet they have raised the annual fee as well. They want the tourists to pay for the increase money and effort it is taking to control the epic number of visitors.

Click here for the complete TLT revenue report. https://www.tillamookcountypioneer.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/TLT-Revenue-by-CY-v19.4c.pdf

Tillamook county implemented a 10% Tillamook Transient Lodging tax in 2014. 30% of revenue is to be used for infrastructure, 70% for tourism related activities. Tillamook County has the 3rd largest lodging tax out of the 7 counties on the Oregon Coast.

In the 10 years the day use fee has been in effect, many primitive boat launch approaches and parking lots HAVE NOT been improved i.e. graded and or graveled. A porta-potty and trash can have been placed at some sites, signage indicating day use fees and a collection box. Memaloose was improved by a grant previously but needs to be dredged and the boat ramps moved further into the bay. The estimated cost is $400,000. Bay Ocean Spit which previously has no fees has been maintained by Fairchild Airforce Base in exchange for using the area for training. The road approached was graded and graveled in the last year. The port-a-potties at Bay Ocean Spit were paid this year with the TLT tax. The Tillamook County Parks department has 6 campground parks, 21 boat launches, 11- day use areas, that span 75 miles of coastline, 5 bays and 9 rivers. They along with Oregon State Parks and city parks provide the access to the natural waterways and scenic areas of the Oregon Coast which Oregonians know they have the right to use per Oregon water laws. Except for campground parks, and improved boat launches, paved parking areas the county parks provide primitive access to what nature has given us. When funds are used to improve the county facilities that generate the most income and for things like law enforcement, purchase of land, primitive launches’ will never pay for itself.

Tillamook County Parks properties provide most of the access to the natural areas’ tourists come to visit. People who stay more than one day pay TLT tax if they are not staying on private property. In Nan Devlin’s annual report in the Headlight Herald of October 28th, 2020 she wrote tourists are staying an average of 7 days. Those tourists are then visiting our natural areas, so they are also paying for access use unless they are staying at a county park campground. Those who come for the day are paying the $4.00/vehicle fee. Boaters are also paying for boat registration fees and fishing license fees. The problem is although Tillamook County Parks fit into the criteria for TLT funding they get NO PERCENTAGE of the TLT tax revenues. They apply for grants like anyone else. TLT taxes cannot be used for law enforcement.

Susan Aalykke is a former Physical Education, Health, swim instructor, k-12, has a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis in childhood development, orthopedics, therapeutics and recreation management from the University of Oregon.