OP/ED – Part #2 of 3- County Park Fees Increase: How Incorporating Wellness into Funding Decisions Save Money And Provide Inclusion for All

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* 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 second in a series of guest columns about the County’s park fee increases – the value of wellness: there are ways to pay access fees other than money.

By Susan Aalykke, Tillamook
The Tillamook Board of Commissioners approved increased day use access and annual pass fees which will include boat ramps, access to lakes, rivers and the ocean starting January 1, 2021. Oregon law mandated in the 60’s that all water in Oregon is owned by the public. Tillamook County Parks, Oregon State Parks, have become the stewards of the natural beauty, scenery, wildlife, waterways that are abundant in our County, providing access, means for enjoyment in such a manner as to leave these gifts of nature for now and the enjoyment of future generations. In the 42 years I have lived in the county I have not seen many of the primitive boat ramp areas improved except for putting in porta potties and a garbage can at some sites. Conversely the campgrounds have become fancy facilities with more sites, tiny cabins, pavillion at Barview campground, playground equipment and at Barview campground landscape features like huge cylinder flowerpots. With the added overnight lodging these campgrounds are set to make even more revenue. People that stay at the Tillamook County campgrounds do not have to pay the additional day access fees that day. People who stay in other forms of lodging that pay into the TLT tax will pay the day use access fee as well. Locals also pay into the TLT tax when they camp at our local campgrounds throughout the county. Until COVID-19 hit the County Parks campgrounds had 142,000 visitors in the fiscal year 2019-2020. Pelican Pub in Pacific City and Tillamook Cheese factory reported 1 million visitors each. Tillamook County has a population of approximately 27,000. When you look at those numbers it shows the locals pay for their use at the present rate. Locals also pay for Tillamook County government, 911 EMCD, Tillamook County Bonds, Tillamook Soil & Water with property taxes. In addition, boaters pay a yearly river water access fee for watercraft 10 ft. or longer, fisherman pay for fishing licenses.

Locals also pay in ways other than money. During high tourist season locals lose much of the quality of life that brought them to Tillamook County in the first place. Hwy 101 becomes grid locked so that driving the 3 miles to get to town becomes practically impossible for me because of the difficulty of turning onto 101 from Alderbrook road. We usually will not go to many of our favorite outdoor areas because we know it will be too crowded. This affects our ability to maintain good health practices, physically, mentally, socially. Our county has developed a wellness program, pays a coordinator so they have a sense of the importance of good health practices to keep our community healthy which in turn will save on mental, physical health services, law enforcement and the cost of those programs. When we ignore these kinds of social issues, they rear up in ways that cannot be ignored like the homeless situation we see in Tillamook County and around the US. County commissioners and JoAnn Woelfle, TCP director seem unable to carry this understanding over to Tillamook County Parks as a reason to not raise or add new sites to day use access fees, boat ramps, areas to walk within the system, so it remains affordable for all because this accessibility pays the wellness benefit. (The exception to this is the Cape Kiwanda recreation area parking, boat ramp as it should now charge because it should have been part of access fees 10 years ago) The other 6 counties along the coast, state parks understand this. The Board of Commissioners repeatedly state they are not trying to monetize, “ locals” yet they raised the annual rate by $10.00. They said it would be discriminatory by law yet there are entities within our state that charge different fees for out of state visitors. The state charges more for out of state fishing and hunting licenses. The Oregon State parks added a TEMPORARY surcharge for out of state visitors starting August 24th because of COVID-19 and the need to raise quick revenue.

The executive director Of Tillamook County Parks stated that boat ramps and day use areas never have paid for themselves. I feel that is life. In so many situations such as schools, families there is money going out that do not pay for themselves in money value. In families, children and pets can be sited as money pits, but the love, mental, emotional value they provide is more than money can buy. Most adults who do not have children understand why it is necessary to pay for schools. The value comes back when they become educated citizens who usually make wiser choices in the interest of society. Churches do not pay taxes because society deems the spiritual doctrine provides a healthier society.

When my husband and I travel we often make our lunches. When we drive to a community, we look for a local park, swimming area or place to walk which does not charge. We give verbal thanks to the community that provides these areas for locals and visitors alike. We leave with a warm feeling for that area. The feeling of good will experienced by a visitor translates in ways other than money. It may come thru conversation between friends about what a great place they visited, a review on trip advisor or yahoo. We always refer to trip advisor for the top 10 restaurant, top gardens or parks in the area. If visitors feel like they are being over charged they will not pay the fee, confident the town will not extradite them for not paying a day use access fee or ticket. As one person on the TLT review committee meeting stated on Nov 9th meeting not everything has to have a fee.

Ten years ago, Tillamook County Parks was taken out of the Tillamook County general fund as a source of revenue. They were told they had to become self-sufficient. This is when boat ramp fees were created at $2.00/vehicle, $30.00 annual pass. In November 2013, the voters of Tillamook County approved a ballot measure authorizing a transient lodging tax at a rate of 10%. Ordinance #74 – provides that 70% of net revenue generated from TLT shall be used to fund promotion or tourism related promotion or tourism related facilities or finance the debt of tourism-related facilities and pay reasonable administrative costs incurred in financing. In 2014 this measure was implemented. When I voted for this measure, I had no doubt a portion of the revenue generated would be allocated to fund Tillamook County Parks – but it was not.

*Sue Aalykke’s Letter to the editor – https://www.tillamookcountypioneer.net/call-for-action-ask-county-commissioners-to-reconsider-park-fees-increase/

OP/ED: County Park User Fees Increase – https://www.tillamookcountypioneer.net/op-ed-analysis-of-increase-in-county-parks-day-use-fees-series-1-of-3/