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Tourism group gets nod from supervisors to launch new program

Plumas County businesses, especially those catering to tourists, are closer to realizing a new program designed to attract more people to the area.

Supervisors gave the nod allowing members of the Feather River Tourism Association to use staff from county counsel, the tax collector and IT (internet/information technology) offices to do specific duties in promoting tourism in Plumas County.

Without a dedicated tourism department, most supervisors and area businesspeople recognize what FRTA is offering to do for Plumas County and themselves. At least that’s the gist of conversations among supervisors in a past informational presentation by an FRTA representative. Although one supervisor, Michael Sanchez, expressed concern that businesses in his area didn’t appear to be interested. Supervisor Jeff Engel said that tourism-based businesses in his district also weren’t interested.

Despite concerns that FRTA was moving on without Eastern Plumas businesses being involved, supervisors agendized a new opportunity for them to vote on whether they wanted to support the enterprise and how.

At the recommendation of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors in October, Susan Bryner, a Chester area real estate agent and property owner, brought her updated presentation back to the board Nov. 6 as an action item. “After meeting with county IT department and tax collector, our steering committee has made the following decisions and changes to our District Management Plan and our requests of the county,” Bryner explained in a letter dated Nov. 5.

County Counsel Craig Settlemire was quick to point out that his office won’t be giving legal advice. His staff’s role is to review FRTA’s management plan.

At the October informational meeting, Treasurer/Tax Collector Julie White expressed her concerns that she didn’t have the technology required to track what FRTA needed. She also was concerned about the amount of staff time it would require. White was not at the Nov. 6 meeting.

Bryner said that FRTA representatives did some more research concerning the collection of Tourism Investment District (TID) funds. “The wisest approach to collections, given the hurdles that would have to be jumped in order to get the county up and running, is to administer the collections in-house, by our association,” Bryner explained.

Initially, Bryner thought they would need to use the treasurer’s office to prevent conflict of interest issues. Bryner learned that it is legal to have FRTA keep track of TID funds. “We no longer will be requesting collection through the county.”

There was also concern about who would need to count TID petitions.

Bryner said that the law stipulates that under the TID regulations, petitions can be counted by an outside agency or by the tax collector. FRTA is a member of Civitas, an organization that includes TIDs, and they can count the petitions at no additional charge. And the information they collect remains private, Bryner said. This was a past concern expressed by Settlemire. Bryner said that if county counsel isn’t satisfied that Civitas will use information in another way, then the tax collector’s office could count the petitions at no additional cost to FRTA.

Bryner said that in order for the tourism program to be in place by May 1, FRTA would need county counsel to complete a review of a management plan by Nov. 26. Bryner said the organization has already experienced delays in its plans and had to adjust its start date.

Bryner said that since many lodging providers aren’t in the county during December and January, which is the time that petitions need to be signed, she wanted to know if county counsel would accept an electronic signature.

And finally, FRTA wanted to enter into an agreement with the tax collector to provide notification of new Transient Occupancy Tax registrations.

Bryner told supervisors that FRTA set the new assessment fee at 2 percent with a 3 percent cap at year three. Two-thirds of the FRTA governing board approved that decision. Bryner said they were still “fine tuning a few other things.”

Supervisor Sherrie Thrall recommended that the board advise county staff to work with FRTA with no additional charge to the group. She added that she’s “100 percent supportive, as you well know.”

Thrall added that the county benefits from additional tourism and that the county “staff needs to understand that.”

Thrall also said that that this was about people helping themselves “and the beauty of it is we benefit,” she said, as a county.

Supervisor Michael Sanchez initially had concerns about the fact that people from his area — District 1 — were not involved in the process. At the Nov. 6 meeting he said that the only lodging providers in his district are in Delleker.

Supervisor Jeff Engel said that when Plumas Corp operated a tourism program under the county it showed little impact. In fact he said tourism went down during those years. He said he would again vote no on the plan because he didn’t think the new project would help tourism.

During the recession the tourism department was one area supervisors cut to reduce the county’s budget. That program was eliminated beginning in 2011.

Engel said he talked with lodging providers in his area — District 5 — and they were filled up for the months they operated. He said it was the opinion that if they raised TOT that it would result in a backlash.

An unidentified woman in the audience spoke up and said that lodgings operators should look to operating year round. “We need help. We need help,” she repeated for those who operate lodgings all year.

Supervisors voted four to one to allow FRTA to continue. Engel was the lone no vote.

Bryner said at the October presentation that FRTA had raised $40,000 of the $45,000 required to meet costs of an attorney and other fees. At the Nov. 6 meeting she said the Plumas County Board of Realtors contributed the remaining $5,000.

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