No One's Cheering for New 9% Camping Tax

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July 1, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

In the few days between the passage of New Hampshire's 9% camping tax and the effective date today (July 1), the owners of the Clearwater and Meredith Woods Campgrounds have been calling their customers to encourage them to pay outstanding balances before the tax went into effect. 

"All of them have thanked us," said Sue Mackie who, along with the other campground owners in the state have uniformly opposed the "11th-hour" imposition of the camping sales tax, according to the Laconia Citizen

"I've seen a lot of bad things in government, but this is very discouraging," said Mackie who said she and her husband, John, wrote and received numerous e-mails to and from a variety of state legislators. 

One of them, Rep. Francine Wendelboe, R-New Hampton, came about 20 votes short of putting the camping tax to an "up-or-down vote" by making a floor motion, after the passage of the 1,200-page budget trailer bill H.B. 2 that included the camping tax, to suspend the House of Representative's rule that determines when a new bill can be introduced. 

"I made it very clear that a vote to suspend the rule would allow a vote on the camping tax and a vote to uphold the rule would kill it," said Wendelboe. 

"They (the Democrats) could have voted for the budget and then covered themselves by killing this camping thing," said Wendelboe. 

"Once you start pulling the pieces apart, the whole thing falls apart," said Rep. Beth Arsenault, D-Laconia who called Wendelboe's motion "disingenuous" or insincere. 

"We would have had to adjust down HB1 (the budget spending bill) or adjust up HB2," Arsenault continued, saying the committees of conference came to an agreement about the budget, and though nobody was happy with the final product, by law they had to pass a balanced budget. 

"Do I like the camping tax? No," she said. "But it wasn't the thing I hated the most." 

She said she has gotten more complaints about the jail closing and the possibility of closing the Department of Motor Vehicles Belmont office. 

Mixed in with the hundreds of campgrounds in New Hampshire is the crown jewel of Belknap County – the Gunstock Mountain Resort that generates on average about $550,000 in camping income alone and provided the county with $360,000 in total revenue in 2008. 

Gunstock's General Manager Greg Goddard joined his fellow campground owners and operators in opposing the tax and said he was especially dismayed by the "lack of public process and the time to implement it." 

"There wasn't any time for debate," Goddard said, adding many of the people who camp at Gunstock have made deposits on their sites and won't understand when the tax is added to their outstanding balances. 

The tax goes into effect today. If the campsite was paid in full prior to today, there is no tax, which Goddard said will create the problem of people in adjoining campsites paying different prices. 

"They'll just blame us," said Goddard who said the tax will be shown separately on each camper's bill so he or she will know what caused the increase. "We've already quoted prices to many of our campers." 

Goddard said overall the season is already off about 5% so far, mostly due to a poor economy and the weather. He said they had a pretty good NASCAR week and Bike Week was "OK." 

Goddard said his biggest fears about the camping tax will be to discourage attendance at the larger events like Soul Fest and the Rib Fest especially after this year. 

He said many people who camp don't have a lot of money and, even if they continue to come, they'll spend 9% less on the rest of the things they do once they get here. 

"Camping brings in other things, like movies, concerts and restaurants," Goddard said. "If (lawmakers) go after tourism, what's next?"

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