Recreational vehicles flood Pendleton each Round-Up, and plenty park for free and pay nothing in taxes. But others pay hundreds of dollars to set up shop in designated RV parks.
The city of Pendleton requires trailer and mobile home businesses collect a transient room tax and the tourism promotion assessment charge, just like hotels. The tax is 8 percent for parks and hotels alike, and hotels pay an additional tourism charge of $1.50 per night per paid room while the parks pay 50 cents per night for each paid mobile home or trailer park space. The city uses the money to fund its convention center and boost tourism efforts.
In its city budget, Pendleton projected $98,000 in revenue from the tourism charge for fiscal year 2017.
The Pendleton Wal-Mart, 2203 S.W. Court Ave., allows Rocket RV Parking to provide RV and camping space on the south side of the large parking lot. Dozens of campers have staked their claims. Rocket asks for $25 for the length of the stay, but that is only a “suggested donation,” according to the handmade sign at the site. The money benefits Pilot Rock High School, home of the Rockets.
Doug and Becky Reynolds are in their second year of operating Lookout RV Park & Storage, 601 Airport Road, which has 28 spaces. The business charges $35 a night to park an RV there during Round-Up. That means $3.30 of each charge goes to the city.
Doug Reynolds said no one really knows how much free RV parking is available in Pendleton. While those sites — and some who just park on city streets or empty lots — do not pay their fair share, Reynolds said he and his wife have no plans to complain about it.
“We just work hard, keep our heads down,” he said. “We want to add to the solution, not the problem.”
KOA campground, 1375 S.E. Third St., has 101 spaces, though some are reserved for people living there month-to-month. Tina Groshen works at the KOA. She said parking there during Round-Up requires a commitment to a seven-day reservation at a cost of $450-$550, whether or not a guest stays the whole time. KOA rents any open spaces this week for $60 a night.
She said the campground is “completely booked all the way” for Round-Up.
The business has not felt pressure from free RV parking, even outside of Round-Up week. One or two people a month assert they can park for free at Wal-Mart, Groshen said, but KOA campers are a loyal lot. The Pendleton site also is just moments away from Interstate 84 and has full electrical hookups, wi-fi, showers and laundry, all part of the price. Groshen said the park even provides breakfasts on Saturdays from May though September. And during Round-Up, she said, there are breakfasts and dinners every day.
The RV parks also purchase an annual city business license. The city’s basic fee is $100 for businesses inside city limits and $160 for those outside. Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts said free parking lots do not require a license.
“The way we handle the Round-Up business license issue is we start by generating a master list of all temporary business licenses, which has been amassed since May or so,” Roberts said in an email. “The code enforcement officer then inspects every license/location. Typically, she will find additional ‘pop-up’ vendors who are shut down until a license is obtained.”
That process continues, he said, until city hall closes its doors Friday. After that, any new pop-ups police find face a choice: shut down or face a fine.
The city also exempts civic and nonprofit groups from the business licenses fee. Those are the kinds of groups, such as Rocket RV, that often operate parking lots during Round-Up to raise funds.
RV parking in Pendleton is no longer a Round-Up only event. Although just two years old, Pendleton Bike Week saw attendance jump in its second year, and plenty of campers were involved.
“For Bike Week, we filled up,” Groshen said. “And I’ve already got people wanting to come to bike week next year.”
Several cities in Oregon have banned overnight parking at Wal-Marts, including in Hood River, Portland and Salem. Local RV park operators, though, expressed ambivalence about such a move, even as Pendleton pushes to become a destination beyond the second full week of September.