NEWPORT — The saga continues over Rogue Ales’ nonpayment of transient room taxes to the City of Newport and operation of a vacation rental without a short-term rental license, two facets of an issue first taken up by the city’s planning commission and then the Newport City Council itself.
Two higher-ups at the company, President Dharma Tamm and Rogue Ales & Spirits General Counsel Matt Merritt, approached the city council to address concerns Rogue Ales intentionally didn’t pay the transient room tax or apply for a vacation rental license for the three-unit vacation rental the company operates as part of a “Bed ‘n’ Beer” tourism promotion. Despite what some in the community think, Tamm said, executives at Rogue Ales just didn’t know about the 2012 city ordinance requiring the tax and the license.
“The accusation we would intentionally withhold any taxes or not pay licensing fees is blatantly false, and it’s really insulting to us,” Tamm said. “We operated the Bed ‘n’ Beer openly, we advertise in the community, we advertise on the chamber website, so any [assertion] we didn’t pay this on purpose is wrong.”
Rogues Ales, according to Tamm, pays taxes and licensing fees in all 50 states and in 54 different countries. The president of seven months added he felt any implication Rogue Ales didn’t pay taxes and licensing costs in the brewery’s own backyard was ludicrous.
“As soon as we found out this was an issue, our goal was to remedy it as soon as possible so we can move on and continue to represent Newport as we always have,” Tamm said.
Despite the defense, some city officials and longstanding community members still didn’t buy that explanation.
“The people that Rogue had there representing their position for the conditional use permit knew absolutely nothing about anything, and they seemed to have worked there for quite some time,” said local resident Mona Linstromberg. “I don’t understand how they could not know about the room tax, and the vacation rentals have been in the news for quite some time. It’s amazing that for being so engaged in the community that they weren’t engaged enough to educate themselves on this issue.”
Linstromberg added, “I hope they own up to the fact that being totally uninformed is not a good excuse for what happened.”
According to Merritt, Rogue executives found out in February the company needed a vacation rental license to operate the Bed ‘n’ Breakfast program. Then city officials notified the company that Rogue would also need a conditional use permit to be relieved of providing parking for the Bed ‘n’ Beer accommodations. Then the room tax issue surfaced, pushing Merritt and other Rogue officials to address that issue with the city, too.
“Every step of the way, we’ve really worked hard to be cooperative here,” Merritt said.
Merritt added he and other Rogue Ales employees are looking through old files to determine when they needed to start paying the transient room tax for the three-apartment building, which is sometimes used for employee housing, after the ordinance went into effect in 2012.
“We’re still looking for records before 2007,” Merritt said.
Newport City Manager Spencer Nebel plans to review Rogue Ales & Spirits’ financial records by the first week of August and will have a report prepared for the city council by the first meeting in September.
“We’re reviewing whether there was any attempt to pay the taxes, things that we want to review and understand so we know exactly what we’re looking at before we finalize our decision,” Nebel said.