Voters Reject Campground Occupancy Tax

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June 7, 2012 by   - () Leave a Comment

Voters in east-central California's Tuolumne County Tuesday (June 5) rejected by a hefty margin Measure C, whose adoption would have broadened the county’s 10 percent lodging tax to take in private campgrounds, RV parks and house boats.

The tax expansion was aimed at funding the county fairgrounds and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, the Union Democrat reported.

The measure failed 6,558 to 5,048, or about 56.5 to 43.5 percent, uncertified results from the county Elections Office showed.

About 3,000 ballots remained to be counted because they could not be verified. Such ballots include absentee ballots dropped at polling places and provisional ballots.

But supporters of the measure were resigned to its defeat by early Tuesday evening.

Measure C’s passage would have broadened the county’s 10 percent lodging tax to take in private campgrounds, RV parks and house boats. Known as the Transient Occupancy Tax, it currently raises about $2 million annually for local services like roads, law enforcement, fire, emergency services and recreation, as well as marketing for tourism.

County officials had said they would commit the additional funds from the tax extension to fund Railtown and the fairgrounds for at least three years. Both operations have seen drastic cuts in state funding, and Railtown is on a list of state parks slated to close on July 1 if no alternative funding plan is devised.

Though the measure didn’t have particularly organized opposition like a committee, those against the proposal often complained it would put many businesses at a competitive disadvantage with similar businesses outside of the county.

Gary Neubert, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, which publicly stood against Measure C, said he doesn’t believe the results show a local lack of support for Railtown or the fair.

“The people saw the attempt to tie the taxes to those causes,” Neubert said late Tuesday. “Now we’ve got to get to work to make sure those facilities don’t close.”

One possible option is a bill working through the state legislature that could help save many of the 70 parks slated to close by finding alternative funding solutions.

Proponents of the tax expansion regularly pointed out the tie to Railtown and the fair, and also said it would make all lodging businesses operate on a level playing field. Supporters also started a political committee and raised $3,000 on a donation from the California State Parks Foundation.

John Zach, treasurer for the Yes On Measure C committee, said supporters are “all in scramble mode” to figure out how to find funds to keep the fairgrounds and park operating. Possible options include non-profit organizations, public-private partnerships and fundraisers. Now it’s a matter of figuring out which is best.

Local Rotary clubs have been raising money for Railtown through multiple fundraisers, including one Zach said is still going to take place on Saturday at the park.

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