Plumas County voters will decide whether they want to pay more sales tax and charge tourists a higher bed tax to bring additional revenue to the county’s general fund when they cast their ballots in the Nov. 6 election.
The Board of Supervisors put both Measure C and Measure D on the ballot in an effort to raise more revenue for the county. Both are short-term taxes, due to go into effect Jan. 1, 2013, and be automatically repealed Jan. 1, 2017.
Measure C, the temporary modification of the transient occupancy tax rate (bed tax), would increase the rate from its current 9 percent to a new rate of 11 percent.
Measure D would raise the local sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent.
How do Plumas rates compare to others?
Local tourism providers worry that charging higher transient occupancy tax rates will cause visitors to vacation elsewhere.
A look at statewide rates reveals that most are at 10 percent, including those in neighboring Butte, Lassen and Tehama counties. The rate in Placer County is 8 percent, except for the North Lake Tahoe area, which is at 10 percent.
Bay Area and Los Angeles rates hover around 12 percent, while Palm Springs checks in at 13.5 percent for hotels designed for group meetings.
As for sales tax, neighboring counties charge 7.25 percent. That includes Lassen, Butte, Sierra and Tehama. Shasta and Siskiyou counties are also at 7.25 percent. Sacramento County charges 7.75 percent, while Contra Costa is at 8.25 percent. Los Angeles County charges 8.75 percent.
The sales tax rate in Reno is 7.725 percent.
Though the supervisors put the tax measures on the ballot, they can’t do much to advocate for their passage.
“We asked county counsel and he said we can’t go out and campaign,” Supervisor Lori Simpson said, adding that another group could spearhead such an effort.
Supervisor Jon Kennedy said that the supervisors could form a committee, subject to all of the rules of the Fair Political Practices Commission, but that no taxpayer money could be used in such an effort.
Both supervisors said they are free to discuss the measures and advocate for them.
Simpson said that she hadn’t heard much feedback on the sales tax measure, but some lodging providers were “totally against the TOT.”
“We’re just trying to maintain services,” Simpson said.
Depending on estimates, the two measures are expected to bring in from $750,000 to $1 million annually.
“It will be a huge help for next year’s budget,” Board Chairman Robert Meacher said during a recent interview.
Meacher, like Simpson, hopes voters will approve the measures to ensure that the county can continue to provide vital services.
“I’m not a big tax advocate,” Kennedy said. “But taxes are spent for good things, too.” He cited dialing 911 and getting a prompt response and being able to walk into a library and check out a book as just two examples.
Simpson said she pushed for the four-year sunset provision of both measures with the hope that it would get Plumas County through this rough financial period.
Simpson said she knows that some people would like to see the proceeds from TOT invested back in the chambers of commerce.
“I would like to have a little for marketing,” Simpson said. But she explained that TOT is designed to help pay for visitor impacts and that includes such things as law enforcement and roads.
“We can justify a lot of things,” she said.
What happens if the tax measures don’t pass?
“I am not going to be one of those politicians who uses threats and fear to persuade you to vote for a tax measure,” Kennedy said. “We balanced the budget by not assuming additional tax revenue and we will continue to be conservative going forward. I can just tell you that the small amount of projected revenue from these two tax measures will go a long way in our small county.”
Kennedy went on to say, “The Board of Supervisors, department heads, employees and outside consultants did an incredible job of balancing the budget this year. Every general fund department was scrutinized, line by line, and I feel many departments could not endure any more cuts. For some, one more cut in hours or employees will inevitably be the demise of the department.”
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