Rockaway Beach’s Transient Room Tax: Status Report

By Brian Cameron

With all the hubbub over tourism these days we thought it best to check in with locals, businesses and city officials regarding Rockaway Beach’s specific Transient Room Tax (TRT).
Before a list of tax percentages is listed off its best to get a primer on what Rockaway Beach’s TRT is and its history with the State of Oregon, Tillamook County and the city of Rockaway Beach.
Beginning way back in the 1930’s the State of Oregon decided to include the new tourism commission under the purview of the State Highway Commission. It wasn’t until 1983 when the tourism commission became part of the Oregon Economic Development Department. Fast forward to 2003 the Oregon Tourism Commission was granted independence as a singular department and was given far more autonomy than in the past, subsequently Travel Oregon was born.
In that 2003 reshuffle there was created the Transient Lodging Tax that would be applied throughout the State of Oregon to be enacted at every “hotel, motel and inn dwelling unit for temporary overnight human occupancy,” per the law the requirement states that 80 percent of the generated tax revenue needs to go toward tourism marketing programs, in addition to the operation of Travel Oregon as well.
“I’m in a unique situation in that I literally charge my customers the tax,” said the owner of the Tradewinds Motel and member of the Rockaway Beach Tourism Commission Neil Patel. “I see myself as sort of being on the frontlines for the TRT tax.”
According to Patel, who sits on the advisory commission that courses the city’s perspective on where and how to utilize the generated monies, there have been a few things to happen recently that may put the future of the advisory council in jeopardy.
“From here on out the city isn’t obligated to work with the commission,” said Patel. “The City has the ability to disband our commission, though they have been willing to work with us so far so I would hope they keep us around.”
Patel was referring to the Rockaway Beach Tourism Commission and its main mission to help guide the Rockaway Beach City Council and City Manager in allocating the monies to prioritized projects aimed at bettering visitor experience to Rockaway Beach.

How it’s divided
Rockaway’s TRT monies may seem pretty straightforward but there is an entire set of regulatory stipulations that must be adhered to in order to properly use the monies. For starters the Tillamook County-wide Transient Lodging Tax (TLT) money is a separate funding source compared to Rockaway Beach’s specific Transient Room Tax (TRT), though they are basically the same thing as in the case of Rockaway Beach the TRT is merged into the TLT so the County doesn’t end up taxing the city twice.
“Tourism is an export business,” said Tillamook County Tourism Advisory Council member and member of the Rockaway Beach Tourism Commission Betty Baumgart. “It’s a very clean industry and I think the word is getting out.”
Rockaway Beach’s TRT accounts for collected taxes from hotels, motels and vacation rentals, in 2014 the tax was raised to 9 percent of room rentals, and as of 2017 it resides at 10 percent. Adding in the 1.05 percent Travel Oregon statewide tax and Rockaway Beach’s rate lies as one of the highest in Tillamook County.
According to Baumgart there are four main components of the tax, the five percent portion, the two percent earmarked for media advertising, notably that two percent is broken into a 30 percent and a 70 percent partition.
“In my experience we have to manage tourism,” said Baumgart. “The community’s infrastructure is being physically stressed and funds should be more clearly earmarked to address these types of concerns.”
This gets a little more confusing as allocations are further divided, but they are important to understand how they are used. The five percent portion and the 30 percent of the 2 percent used for the City of Rockaway Beach such as fire, police, parks, equipment and capital improvements. Further more the two percent media-advertising chunk can only be used for tourism promotion and economic development. The 70 percent remaining of the two percent can only be used on tourism facilities and promotion.

How it’s used
To date the list of allocated costs for the TRT monies is fairly straightforward and as of a newly passed list of recommendations by the Rockaway Beach Tourism Commission for the fiscal year 2017/2018, some of the projects have yet to even begin.
Over the next year the proposal lists updates to the website, copywriting new pages and site specific photography and archive photography. There are a litany of ongoing marketing and maintenance projects proposed as well such as refreshed branding development, website monthly maintenance and reports, Google adwords and pay-per-click services, blogs, event calendar postings, newsletters, social media, photography, press releases, graphic design, video development, collateral designs as well as active promotional campaigns like regional radio promotions, social media marketing, advertising with Travel Oregon, OCVA, 101 Things to Do, Tillamook Coast, and other miscellaneous print ads. Finally things like a mobile app, bus/trolley graphic wraps, pens, merchant shopping bags and other collateral make for a busy first year of projects.
According to Baumgart much of the project is being overseen by the Visit Tillamook Coast county destination marketing organization as they have the technical capability to do what Rockaway Beach hopes to accomplish as this tax program lifts off the ground.
“We have to remember the tax is designed to increase the economic base for every business, all across the board,” said Baumgart. “Rockaway Beach has a lot to gain but we have to make sure the system is managed and follows all the laws accordingly.”