The City of White Salmon approved an ordinance that aims to create a registration system for owners and managers of short-term rentals within City limits during a City Council meeting on Dec. 4.

The City Council also voted in favor of a sibling resolution, which sets the fee structure for the registration system. Owners and managers of short-term rentals within the City, under the ordinance and resolution package, will be faced with a yearly permit fee of $75 to operate such rentals starting Jan. 1 of 2020.

Beginning in the new year, “no owner or manager of property within the White Salmon city limits may advertise, offer, operate, rent, receive remuneration for, or otherwise make available or allow any other person to make available for occupancy a short-term rental without a short-term rental permit,” according to the ordinance.

A short-term rental permit would not replace the usage of a business license and must be used as a supplement to an existing business license under the ordinance.

The ordinance also mandates that an owner or contact person for a short-term rental be available to respond to complaints, provide notice to neighbors of the operation of the short-term rental, make contact information publicly available through the City’s registration system and ensure the rental will be available for health and safety inspections, which will occur at the City’s discretion.

Under the ordinance, owners or contact people of short-term rentals must also maintain liability insurance, comply with state and local taxes and display pertinent information listed in the ordinance, such as contact information, the permit itself and good-neighbor guidelines that City officials drafted.

Regarding the fee that will be put in place alongside the registration, Councilor Marla Keethler said, “This isn’t necessarily recouping the cost that City staff will spend, but it’s at least trying to set an acknowledgement that there is a cost to these types of things.”

The meeting marked the fourth time since mid-July the ordinance was presented to the council. Councilors had agreed to table the passage of the ordinance previously due to perceived errors in the fee structure and to make changes to the definitions and exemptions portions of the ordinance.

“After the last and third public hearing we took this back to committee and cleaned up a few of the areas where we got feedback especially from the council,” Keethler said when presenting the proposed ordinance to the council.

Keethler noted the changes made to the document, like the change from a tiered fee structure to a flat rate structure. Other changes include an addition to the language that clearly exempts hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts from the regulation and more clerical edits that more clearly state the goal of the ordinance.

“This also dovetails really with a lot of state legislation that passed this year on short-term rentals in terms of reinforcing the requirements that they do have for sales tax,” Keether said.

“Especially now that we’ve passed the lodging tax there certainly is a motivation from the City to make sure that we’re capturing all that revenue that we’re trying to give back to White Salmon,” Keethler continued.

The goal, addressed in the first section of the ordinance is as follows: “In the adoption of these regulations, the city finds that the rental of dwelling units and lodging units for less than thirty days is an important contributor to the comprehensive plan’s tourism goal. The city also finds that these short-term rentals are part of an emerging market that has the potential to be incompatible with surrounding residential uses.”

The ordinance continues to note that registering the short-term rentals in the City will:

oDetermine the impact on the local economy;

oReduce administrative burdens and barriers to entry;

oEnsure market fairness and taxation;

oProtect guests;

oAvoid unchecked neighborhood disruptions.

“Getting something like this in place while we’re undergoing the comprehensive plan feels like a right approach to start getting the correct data and information before we start jumping to conclusions and making decisions,” Keethler said.

Keethler wrote in an email that the data gathered from the registry will allow the City to examine certain areas to make more informed decisions.

“One example of how the data will be helpful is in evaluating whether or not some of our multi-family zoning areas are achieving what they aim to do in providing long-term housing options for residents. If we see a higher percentage of townhomes or apartments being used as short-term rentals rather than long-term rentals or primary homes, that data will help the planning commission determine if the aim of those zoning areas, as implemented, is or is not being achieved,” Keethler wrote.

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