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CHARLESTON — Coos County voters will be asked in the November election whether the unincorporated Charleston area should impose a lodging tax on its short-term rentals.

The Coos County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a second reading of a resolution at a hearing Aug. 4 to ask voters to approve the proposed 9.5% tax. The ordinance will not go into effect unless approved by voters on the Nov. 3 General Election.

The proposed 9.5% tax on short-term lodging in the Charleston area would mirror the tax imposed by the cities of Coos Bay and North Bend and allow promotion of tourism in the area, according to an explanatory statement on the issue.

The tax would only be paid by those using the short-term rentals and is typically added to their rental fees by the owner of each establishment. Those fees are then submitted to the county, which redistributes the funds accordingly. 

Tourism in Coos County is a $275 million industry and employs more than 3,300 residents. Increasing visitors and travelers to the area will assist not only lodging properties, but restaurants, shops, and attractions in Charleston and the County in general, the statement reads.

The fishing village of Charleston and the surrounding area is a popular tourist destination on the South Coast. Visitors coming to the area often stay in short-term lodging accommodations such as RV parks, campgrounds, motels and vacation rentals while enjoying the area's many recreational opportunities.

While the neighboring cities of Coos Bay and North Bend have imposed a 9.5% tax on such short-term lodging accommodations, to date there has not been a local lodging tax charged to visitors to the Charleston area.

The Charleston Merchants Association, represented by Tim Hyatt from Sunset Bay Golf Course, approached the Coos County Board of Commissioners, according to Oregon’s Adventure Coast Executive Director Janice Langlinais, who spoke at the Aug. 4 hearing. 

The CMA is hoping to use monies from the lodging tax to build a new Visitor Center and promote the area, among other tourism-related improvements, Langlinais said.

"The Visitor Center is in an old laundromat and is not welcoming to visitors," she said. "The Charleston area is a gem and is one of the areas that does not have a (lodging tax). This will help promote the area even more, especially with the pandemic."

All revenues generated by lodging tax will be spent to benefit the Charleston area and Coos County.

Under state law, 70% of the revenue must be used for tourism promotion and tourism facilities in the Charleston area. Langlinais said it is anticipated the funds will primarily support the following major projects:

Charleston Visitor Center — currently Charleston’s visitor center is located in an old laundromat and is relatively hidden behind the bridge leading into the community. It is managed and manned completely by volunteers. It is anticipated that the lodging tax allow the Charleston community to build or renovate a facility that better reflects the area, is more visible to travelers to the area, and would allow for a paid staff to ensure the facility and volunteers are managed adequately.

Participation in the Coos Bay-North Bend Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB) also known as Oregon’s Adventure Coast. A portion of the funds collected would be used toward the activities of the VCB to promote the Charleston area as a tourism destination, Langlinais explained.

The VCB has promoted the area for decades without any participation from the Charleston area. This additional funding would allow the VCB to increase its promotion and marketing activities to bring more visitors to the area to participate in recreation, dine in local restaurants, and spend money in Charleston’s quaint shops, she said.

Under state law, the remaining 30% of the revenue may be retained by Coos County. By ordinance, Coos County has committed to placing this revenue into a fund dedicated to the enforcement of the Coos County codes. The county currently uses a significant portion of its limited code enforcement resources in the Charleston area, and the proposed tax will aid in these critical efforts.

According to Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins, the businesses affected are solely businesses that rent overnight accommodations for 30 days or less. This will include county and state parks including Bastendorff Beach County Park and Sunset Bay State Park; RV parks including Charleston Marina RV Park (operated by the Interntional Port of Coos Bay), Bay Point Landing Resort and Snug Harbor RV Park, among others; motels such as Oceanside Beachfront Lodging, Capt. John's Motel and the Charleston Harbor Inn; and vacation rentals. The University of Oregon's Oregon Institute of Marine Biology dormitories would not be included.  

"The county would receive 30% of the revenue, and the rest would be dedicated to tourism promotion and infrastructure," Cribbins wrote in an email. "We have dedicated those funds to code enforcement. It would be used to deal with properties that are 'eyesores' in the community."

Other cities along the South Coast that have a short-term lodging tax include Bandon (6%), Reedsport (6%), Gold Beach (6%), Brookings (6%), Coos Bay (9.5%), North Bend (9.5%) — both of these were increased from 7% on April 1, 2019 after being approved by voters, Port Orford (7%) and Lakeside (7.5%). The State of Oregon also imposes an additional 1.5% short-term lodging tax. 

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