New Hampshire Owners Cry Foul Over 9% Tax

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June 23, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Here's something to add to the list of things to bring camping this summer: more money – at least enough to cover the 9% tax that lawmakers are eyeing for camping sites across the state. 

If both the House and Senate agree this week to a compromise budget plan, the state's rooms and meals tax would be increased from 8% to 9% and be expanded to capture campers, according toFoster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H. 

The tax already covers campgrounds that offer rental cottages and trailers, but the expansion would include space for tents or people hauling in their recreational vehicles. 

Campground owners are not happy about it, claiming the proposal is a backdoor sales tax that will break families' already-tight budgets, keep vacationers away, give New Hampshire the highest camping tax in New England and they're angry at its creation at the last minute without a public hearing. 

"We feel this is not a lodging tax since our customers bring their own lodging with them," said Gail Ziemba, who has owned Barrington Shores Campground for 15 years. "It's really a sales tax on campsites. Let's call it what it is." 

At Old Stage Campground in Madbury, owner Dave Redfearn said he's "already been told five of my seasonals aren't coming back next year." 

One of them could be Susan Shaw, a stay-at-home mother of two young boys from Haverhill, Mass. "I'm going to have to go back to Mass.," she said. "I'd rather camp in New Hampshire … but we can't afford the taxes." 

Old Stage charges $35 for an overnight tent site, but seasonal passes cost $2,100, which Shaw said "we weren't sure we could afford … but we did it anyway for the kids because they have a ball." 

Barrington resident Jean Feegel said she and her husband, Robert, began camping so their three grown children and four grandchildren can enjoy "nice family time." 

They opted for a $3,000 seasonal pass to Barrington Shores, but with the camper's registration fees the proposed tax is "almost like double taxation," she said. "I do understand the state needs money. I just think 9% is prohibitive." 

11th Hour Decision Adds Campgrounds 

Lawmakers agreed to the tax late Thursday night (June 18) after spending months trying to close a roughly $650 million revenue gap in the general fund portion of the $11.6 billion budget. Without expanded gambling, tax and fee hikes were eyed along with personnel cuts. 

"It was pointed out to us in the last couple of days that campgrounds are exempted from the rooms and meals tax even though they are kind of like lodging," said Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-Exeter, one of the budget negotiators. 

The state expects the measure to bring in about $9 million over the next two years, she said. 

"It popped up out of nowhere," said Senate Minority Leader Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, "and a lot of campers have reservations and people have already paid." 

Exactly, say campground owners who are faced with having to impose the tax July 1, assuming the budget is passed on time. 

Most campers have paid up, said Walter George, who owns Ferndale Acres Family Campground in Lee, where the daily camping rate is $34. 

"So you go back and charge them?" he asked. "I'm not prepared to do that." 

Sen. Jackie Cilley, D-Barrington, has been hearing from campers. 

"One fellow from Madbury said the tax will make us uncompetitive with camp sites in surrounding states because the tax is much higher," she said. "I want to understand that and the potential impact of that." 

Gregg Pitman, executive director of the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association, said Maine has the region's highest camping tax at 7% and contrary to popular belief most campers in New Hampshire live within the state. 

"We're seeing families change their vacation plans for a week to camp to a few days because of their own economic struggles," he said. 

Bragdon said he sympathizes with the association's concerns. 

"People who camp tend to be value-conscious, which is why they're camping and not staying in a hotel," he said. "The last thing we want to do is discourage them from coming to New Hampshire." 

Ziemba questioned if the "people who pass this tax" understand the people paying it. 

"The fact of the matter is there are people at lower income levels who choose to vacation in one way and there are people who eat out at very expensive restaurants and very inexpensive places, but we still have a meals tax on inexpensive places, too," Hassan said. 

Alice DeSouza, the state's director of travel and tourism, said increased prices always carry concern but "it's too early to tell" if the 9% tax will impact the camping industry. 

Walter George is sure it will have an impact at the grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations that benefit from camping season. 

Plus, said Portsmouth resident and retired state employee John Reardon, a camper, all of the state attractions that rely on full camp sites will also be impacted.

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