Cannon Beach food tax survives recount

Dec. 8—CANNON BEACH — A recount has not changed the outcome for a food tax meant to raise money for city infrastructure and emergency services.

The tax continued to pass by only a handful of votes following a recount Wednesday morning by Clatsop County elections officials in Astoria. The final vote on the controversial measure stands at 380 to 374 — a one-vote shift to "yes" from the last count. Certification of the recount now goes to the Oregon Secretary of State's Office.

Patrick Nofield, who owns Escape Lodging in Cannon Beach and asked for the recount, said he was disappointed. But, he added, "I think the main thing is not to be reactive. I think we just need to sit down and figure out what it is."

The tax proposal divided the community. With such a close margin after election night in November, Nofield felt a recount was justified.

He remains concerned about an incident where city officials opened a ballot drop box in front of City Hall in October. City Manager Bruce St. Denis has defended the action, saying people had shoved several ballots into the side of the box and city staff wanted to make sure the ballots were protected from the rain. He and Karen LaBonte, the city's public works director, unlocked the box and put the ballots inside.

County elections staff say St. Denis and LaBonte did not violate any rules.

"They did not break any laws and they are under oath," County Clerk Tracie Krevanko said. Granted, she added, it probably wasn't a wise decision on their part given the controversy around the tax.

The incident continues to trouble some in Cannon Beach, including Nofield.

At a City Council meeting Tuesday night, several people voiced their concerns about the opening of the ballot drop box. They also noted that at least one ballot turned in at a drop box in Seaside was not counted in the election.

Seaside's 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 drop off ballots at only three locations: drop boxes in Knappa and Cannon Beach and a drop box in front of county offices in Astoria.

Krevanko picked up the ballots dropped at Seaside after the election. She found two ballots for the November election in the box.

Such ballots are given credit as being cast in an election, but they are considered too late to count and are never opened, Krevanko said.

Cannon Beach's food tax will now move forward. The 5% tax applies to prepared food sold at restaurants and similar businesses. The city will begin to collect the tax in July.

The city will split the tax revenue — an estimated $1.7 million annually — with the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District. The city will use its portion to help fund the building 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 service rise.

Proponents of the tax championed it as a way to get visitors to pay their share, raising revenue for services and infrastructure that have suffered because of the city's popularity as a tourist destination. Opponents worried about how the tax could hit businesses still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. While they supported the fire district, they did not trust the city, they said.