PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — There’s only one item on the November 2021 ballot for Clatsop County voters, but it’s creating a divide in the community.
Measure 4-210 would place a 5% tax on most prepared food within Cannon Beach. That includes things like deli food and meals prepared at restaurants.
If passed, the tax will raise money to fund the Cannon Beach Rural Fire District and would help cover the cost of building a new city hall and police station. Five percent of the tax revenue raised would also go back to back to businesses to help offset the cost of collecting it.
City Councilor Nancy McCarthy wanted the measure to pass through city council in the summer, but it failed the vote. Instead, they decided to send it to the November ballot.
Cannon Beach Rural Fire District Chief Marc Reckmann first presented the idea of a prepared food tax in 2019 when the district recognized it didn’t have adequate funds for the level of service it provided to the area.
He said calls for service were up almost 40% in 2021 and 77% of those calls were tourism-related.
If passed, the funds would go toward apparatus replacement, hiring three firefighter paramedics, and hiring a fire marshal.
McCarthy also said the funding is badly needed to replace city hall.
“We have unstable walls and sinking foundations on a building that was never meant to be a city hall in the first place. And we have a police station that is literally falling apart around our knees,” she said.
Many Cannon Beach restaurants oppose the tax and feel like it isn’t fair that they’re the only businesses taking on the tax.
Paul Nofield, owner of the Driftwood Restaurant and Lounge, said he’s concerned the tax could cause restaurant customers to lower the amount they pay in tips. He said when visitors come to Cannon Beach they budget a certain amount to pay for their meals. If they don’t expect a tax, they’ll cut the money from somewhere else.
“I don’t think our guests will want to budget their holiday weekend for hotels and then food and then now there’s sales tax,” he said.
He said he supports the fire district but has a problem with the tax going to support city hall.
KOIN 6 News asked if he knew of any other options for funding the fire district that have been presented to city leaders. Nofield said there had been, but he wasn’t aware of the details of them.
Deanna Hammond from Cannon Beach Bakery shared a statement with KOIN News and said she’s concerned the city might not split the revenue from the tax 50/50 with the fire district.
In an email, Reckmann said if the tax does not pass, the board will discuss putting a larger tax levy on the ballot to replace the two current levies that fund the fire district.
McCarthy said she’d rather not see this happen, because then the cost falls entirely on Cannon Beach residents. She sees the food tax as a way tourists can contribute to the emergency services they use while visiting.
The city of Newport is also deciding on 5% tax on prepared food in the November election.