PENDLETON — The Pendleton City Council hasn’t yet committed to new sources of road funding, but some of its proposals are already getting pushback.
The council recently received the preliminary results of a survey asking residents what taxes and fees they would support to pay for road maintenance and how much they would be willing to pay.
The only three options to receive a majority of support from survey takers is a ticket fee on large events, a “hotel entertainment fee,” and a gas tax.
The ticket fee was by far the most popular option — 85% of respondents supported it in some form or another — but Pendleton Convention Center Manager Pat Beard sent a letter to the council Oct. 28 attempting to poke holes in its premise.
“I am concerned with the idea of adding a fee on tickets to events,” he wrote. “The repercussions of an assessment on paid attendance would have broader implications that will hinder many events that do great things for (the) community.”
Based on previous council discussions, Beard works under the assumption that the fee would cost $2 per ticket for events of more than 500 people, although the council hasn’t definitively settled on a figure.
Beard said such a fee would require every event in town to track how many people were attending, collecting the fee just in case they surpass the 500-person threshold. If the events don’t bring in enough people, Beard said organizers would need to turn around and refund the money.
Additionally, Beard argued that the ticket fee could hinder new events from coming to town or hurt event attendance, further hurting the hotels, restaurants, and retailers that rely on the tourism dollars these events bring.
“I enthusiastically encourage you to find a solution to the challenge of street repair funding,” he said. “I would also encourage you to look to sources other than taxing a portion of our economy that returns so much to Pendleton and supports local businesses.”
In an interview Wednesday, Beard didn’t want to comment extensively on the letter because of his position with the city. But he said small nonprofit events with modest ticket prices like the Altrusa Bazaar could see their ticket costs rise precipitously due to the fee.
But the ticket fee has its own backers, including some on the city council.
Jake Cambier not only sits on the city council, but also serves on the Pendleton Convention Center Commission, an advisory body that makes recommendations to the council on convention center issues.
Cambier said he disagreed with Beard, arguing that a ticket fee could be a way to raise revenue for streets without hurting low and fixed-income residents.
He added that the council could exempt community events like the Altrusa Bazaar from the fee, while focusing their efforts on the city’s largest events. Cambier said a $2 fee wouldn’t be felt much by a consumer plunking down $70 for the rodeo.
The city hopes several new sources of revenue, like a potential ticket fee, could be combined to raise $1 million. Combined with the existing $1.2 million road maintenance budget, the city expects it can begin to improve a crumbling street system.
To gauge what residents want, the council has been distributing a list of proposals to community groups and the general public.
Besides demonstrating which taxing methods were popular, the preliminary survey results also showed that an income tax, a tax on employees who work in Pendleton, and a payroll tax, a tax on all Pendleton employers, garnered little support.
Of those who supported the gas tax, more than 1-in-3 survey takers said that it should be 4 cents per gallon. An overwhelming majority of respondents favored a $2 price point for the ticket fee.
The council wants to chart a path for road funding by the end of the year, but before they do that, they plan to meet face to face with one of the groups that could be affected by the new taxes and fees.
Mayor John Turner said the council will meet Tuesday to discuss the proposals with hoteliers and event promoters.
Turner said the meeting is being organized to hear these groups’ concerns rather than trying to convince them that these taxes and fees are worthwhile.
Whichever sources of revenue the city pursues, it could spur an organized campaign against them.
After the council put a 5-cent gas tax proposal on the ballot in 2015, a political action committee affiliated with the Oregon Fuels Association spent thousands of dollars to defeat the measure.
Once all the ballots were counted, nearly two out of three Pendleton voters voted against the gas tax.
The council workshop will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the council chambers in city hall, 500 S.W. Dorion Ave.