By Bill Baertlein, Chair, Tillamook County Board of Commissioners
Tillamook County has a population of approximately 26,000, which our first responders can barely provide services for. Tourism has increased year after year and this year, we are overwhelmed. It was estimated that our population increased to as much as 100,000 on the weekend of August 14, 2020. This number far exceeds the capacity to provide public safety in Tillamook County and I suspect this is true of many of our counties and cities. I know the northern three coastal counties have been flooded by tourists. Our law enforcement, fire, and search and rescue departments have been working tirelessly for months and are strained to the point of collapse.
The Oregon State Police (OSP) has historically been an essential partner in patrol and criminal investigation in Tillamook County. Sheriff Jim Horton said that early in his career, OSP had 12 to 15 troopers stationed in Tillamook. However, in the intervening years, the OSP presence in Tillamook has been drastically reduced due to budget cuts, and there are now only two or three troopers and a sergeant working out of Tillamook, which effectively means that local law enforcement spanning the county has been reduced by at least ten full time positions.
As the population in Portland grows, tourism will continue to grow. The Sheriff’s Office is largely funded by the county general fund and there are no funds to expand the increased public safety needs of tourism. We have cut staff positions over the past six years in many general fund departments at the county, and we cannot incur additional cuts and continue to provide mandated services.
I am proposing that we be allowed to use Transient Lodging Tax (TLT) revenue to support public safety services. Currently, the statute allows 30 percent of the tax revenue for general government purposes and Tillamook County voters approved that the county’s 30 percent share go to funding road improvements. This represents one fourth of the road department’s budget and does not even come close to covering the department’s needs. The remaining 70 percent of TLT revenue received by the county is required by state law to fund tourism promotion or tourism-related facilities. I propose that this arbitrary allocation of tax dollars be amended to allow public safety to be a tourist-related expense. The legislative legal department is reviewing the draft bill for the 2021 Legislative Session.
When I visit other communities and pay the transient lodging tax, I want it spent to keep my family safe and make our stay as enjoyable as possible. I do not want the tax I pay spent on promotion when public safety is underfunded. Finally, the beaches, forests, and a very large portion of Tillamook County belong to the state and federal government. They belong to all Oregonians to share. All I am asking is that the state give us the tools to provide a safe place to share for our visitors. Please join me in supporting this bill.