Tourism partnership encounters indecision

Members of the Feather River Tourism Association have hit a snag in their efforts to put Plumas County on the map as a valued tourism destination.

While it’s been full steam ahead for members of the association, some of their efforts have come up against Plumas County’s 1975 collection software and Tax Collector/Treasurer Julie White.

Before the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on June 18, members of the association and White expressed their concerns and frustrations.

White expressed her concerns last November when most supervisors agreed to back the association. At that time she pointed out that the software available to her office couldn’t pick and choose among businesses that are participating in the tourism effort and those that are not. She was also concerned over the additional work she saw for her staff.

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In November, Supervisor Jeff Engel said that his District 5’s businesses that cater to tourists and seasonal residents weren’t interested in joining the association. That meant they weren’t in favor of an added 2 percent on top of the county’s existing TOT (transient occupancy tax) at 9 percent.

At that time, Supervisor Michael Sanchez said that District One doesn’t have the services to raise TOT funding.

Discussion

As supervisors began addressing the new concerns, Supervisor Lori Simpson immediately explained the Board of Supervisors “are not over elected officials’ offices.”

While supervisors could vote to approve the proposed tourism association as it stood late last fall, White is an elected official and has the power to run her office as she deems appropriate.

Doing the math, White said that if her office received the proposed 2 percent of the added 2 percent on top of TOT, that would realize about $3,800. Her office was currently looking at $9,000 to provide the kind of services required for TOT and the additional effort to separate participants in the plan and those who are not participating.

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White also said that the existing software wouldn’t support the kind of collection services the association required. The “collection system and the software is a huge issue,” White said.

Someone from the association who didn’t identify himself asked White how much it would cost to provide the services they need. White responded that she didn’t know; she didn’t realize the topic was going to be on that day’s agenda. She added that she could come up with some rough numbers.

Association member Karen Kleven asked White if her office could actually count the petitions. White estimate it would cost $9,000 just to get it current and that didn’t address the software issue.

White also voiced concerns about identifying Airbnbs and other forms of home rental lodging.

White said she had not contacted other counties to see what they do in similar situations. She said the information would be like comparing apples to oranges because Plumas County has the existing computer program.

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Plumas County Information Technology Systems Manager Dave Preston explained that there are about 20 different programs that could do what members of the association expect. Those software programs start at about $20,000, he said. Support services for them are an additional $4,000 a year.

Cost wise, Preston said it doesn’t make sense to rewrite a program that’s been in place since 1975.

At length, White had to leave the supervisors meeting for another meeting, but the discussion continued, going on for nearly an hour-and-a-half.

Simpson said that if the county really needed the new software this was the time to budget for it.

County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick explained that he had been working with the association and others and needed direction from supervisors.

Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said they needed to make a decision on what was needed, “otherwise we bounce around her and go out of here without a decision.”

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Thrall also asked if other supervisors wanted to invest in the new software system or continue with the system that is in place and functioning. “Does the county need the new software?” she asked. “Do we need, need” it, she asked repeating the word for emphasis.

Thrall also asked if there was a way to share the cost of software with the association.

Sanchez said that the county does need the right tools to get started.

Thrall pointed out that the purpose of supporting the Feather River Tourism Association was to bring in more tourists to Plumas County. When that happens everyone wins because it increases the TOT source.

“Plumas County is all about recreation,” Sanchez said. “It’s a high ticket item.”

Sanchez said it’s time to invest in the new system and that $20,000 wasn’t that much money. He added that it might make White’s job easier and her staff more efficient than dealing with a system that is nearly 50 years old.

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Susan Bryner of Chester and one of the lead association organizers said that at this point they’ve sunk a lot of hours into the project. They’ve raised the $45,000 necessary to join Civitas and for legal advice. Civitas is an organization that includes Tourism Investment District funds.

At length, Hydrick said he needed a clear understanding of what Supervisors’ expectation are concerning the process.

Hydrick was told to come up with a presentation and bring it back to the board, with Tuesday, July 16 discussed as the agenda date.