Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

ENTERPRISE — Wallowa County is considering an increase in its lodging tax, raising additional funds for the sheriff’s office and the fairgrounds.

According to Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts, the county’s transient room tax supports the chamber of commerce, search and rescue, emergency services and solid waste — all of which are county programs directly affected by tourism. If approved, the 5 percent county tax would increase to 10 percent. All Wallowa County overnight guests also pay a 1.8 percent state lodging tax, and those staying in the cities of Joseph and Enterprise pay an additional 3 percent.

At the March 19 Wallowa County Board of Commissioners meeting, Todd Nash, chair of the board, proposed the idea to help fill two vacant sheriff’s office positions and boost funding for the Wallowa County Fairgrounds, which are in need of maintenance and staffing.

Nash spoke about the link between the fairgrounds and tourism in the county.

“The fairgrounds struggle (even though) we have a number of events there every year surrounding tourist activities,” he said.

The Mountain High Broncs and Bulls rodeo in June and the Juniper Jam music festival held during Labor Day weekend are two of the big events drawing in overnight guests to Enterprise. Nash said if the fairgrounds were improved, more events would be possible.

“Beyond fair activities, we see requests year round. Because the facility is not acceptable to some, they come, take a look and say, ‘It’s not what we thought,’” Nash said.

Fairgrounds board member Velda Bales attended the March 19 meeting. She said the county receives $50,000 a year from the state that pays for two part-time staff members who receive no benefits. Additional funding comes from grants, donations and fundraisers, and much of the labor is on the backs of volunteers.

“We are hanging on by our toenails,” Bales said. “We have been able to keep up and survive, but to really maintain or improve our facility we don’t have funds to do that.”

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer