Dec. 8 – CANNON BEACH – A recount did not change the outcome of a food tax intended to raise money for city infrastructure and emergency services.
The tax continued to pass only a handful of votes after a Wednesday morning recount by Clatsop County election officials in Astoria. The final vote on the controversial measure stands at 380 to 374 – a one vote change to “yes” since the last count. Certification of the recount now goes to the office of the Oregon Secretary of State.
Patrick Nofield, owner of Escape Lodging in Cannon Beach and who called for the recount, said he was disappointed. But, he added, “I think the main thing is not to be reactive. I think we just have to sit down and figure out what it is.”
The tax proposal divided the community. With such a tight margin after November election night, Nofield felt a recount was warranted.
He remains concerned about an incident in which city officials opened a ballot box outside City Hall in October. City Manager Bruce St. Denis defended the action, saying people pushed several ballots to the side of the ballot box and that city staff wanted to make sure the ballots were protected from the rain. He and Karen LaBonte, the city’s director of public works, unlocked the box and put the ballots inside.
County election staff say St. Denis and LaBonte broke no rules.
“They didn’t break any laws and they’re under oath,” county clerk Tracie Krevanko said. Admittedly, she added, it was probably not a wise move on their part given the controversy around the tax.
The incident continues to trouble some in Cannon Beach, including Nofield.
At a town council meeting on Tuesday evening, several people raised concerns about the opening of the ballot box. They also noted that at least one ballot delivered to a drop box in Seaside was not counted in the election.
The Seaside drop box was not considered an official drop off location. The only two measures on the November ballot were the food tax in Cannon Beach and a school bond measure in Knappa. Voters could only drop ballots at three locations: drop boxes in Knappa and Cannon Beach and a drop box outside the Astoria County offices.
Krevanko picked up ballots dropped off at Seaside after the election. She found two ballots for the November election in the box.
Those ballots are credited as being cast in an election, but they are considered too late to count and are never opened, Krevanko said.
The Cannon Beach food tax will now progress. The 5% tax applies to prepared foods sold in restaurants and similar businesses. The city will begin collecting the tax in July.
The city will share tax revenue — estimated at $1.7 million annually — with the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District. The city will use its cut to help fund construction of a new city hall and police station, while the fire district plans to use its cut to help fund operations as calls for emergency services increase.
Proponents of the tax have championed it as a way to get visitors to pay their share, generating revenue for services and infrastructure that have suffered from the city’s popularity as a tourist destination. Opponents worried about how the tax could affect businesses still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. While they supported the fire district, they didn’t trust the city, they said.