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Realtor: Say ‘No’ to Campground Occupancy Tax

October 30, 2012 by · Comments Off on Realtor: Say ‘No’ to Campground Occupancy Tax 

Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece on the proposed Transient Occupancy Tax for a campground in Red Bluff which goes to a public referendum on Election Day was written by Don Polson and was published in the Red Bluff Daily News. Polson has called Red Bluff, Calif., home since 1988. He is a past president of the Tehama County Association of Realtors, licensed since 1994. He can be reached by e-mail at donplsn@yahoo.com.

I have to weigh in against Measure A, which imposes a “Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT)” on, effectively, one Red Bluff business, the Durango RV Resort on Lake Avenue adjacent to the freeway and south of the Sacramento River.

I don’t have a vote, being a county resident; however, it is a ballot issue that affects the greater Red Bluff economy in ways that those who put it up for a vote may not have considered.

There are RV parks within the city as well as others in unincorporated areas; I’m informed that the TOT is paid by a couple of Red Bluff RV parks but not by any other parks outside of town limits.

Those various parks range in quality (generally very good but not always), prices (I haven’t done a survey but Durango may trend higher due to facility improvements), location (proximity to the freeway, restaurants and shopping) and appeal (monthly residents can be a turnoff for higher end travelers and their hundred thousand-plus dollars worth of RVs).

I also have no way to ascertain whether the lack of a TOT in the pricing for Durango spaces has had any affect on competitors’ reservations or nightly drop-ins.

We are too cheap to pay for a space when we can sleep overnight in a WalMart or other parking lot on our way to forest, lakeside or mountain campgrounds.

However, as Good Sam members we receive their monthly magazine, “Highways,” and can assure you that the RVing community is adamantly opposed to TOTs or any other taxes targeting RV parks.

Letters are published informing their readers about where they can go to avoid such fees and taxes; their reporters and researchers are keen to keep readers apprised of the worst offenders of travelers’ wallets.

Since all motels and hotels reside in the city, there is a leveling effect of TOTs in their case.

However, if you haven’t noticed Durango’s well-filled park, it’s worth considering the arguments involved relating to the tax and it’s implications.

In the first place, Durango Resort is not in a head-tohead competition with O’nite or Rivers Edge, for instance, due to their size and clientele, nor, as nice as it is, with the Red Bluff RV Park off of Antelope Blvd, due to Durango’s facilities.

Durango is, however, in competition with RV parks like the one in Redding next to I-5 at Lake Blvd (campers pay a TOT).

I think we should consider that having a high-end RV Park with a pricing advantage versus other parks, sought out by well-heeled travelers, to be a major economic feather in our “Branding” cap, if you will.

The word gets out and Red Bluff benefits when those travelers buy groceries, supplies, restaurant meals, attend an event or movie, or explore parks and trails.

Why not let them keep a few (around five, actually) dollars per night, encourage them to discover some of the things that make us unique in all of Northern California, maybe chose among our modestly priced real estate listings to make into a “home base.”

They might return that money many times over to merchants due to the good will they perceive by not being gouged just for occupying a space in an RV park.

Vote “No” on Measure A.

 

Red Bluff Firms Up RV Park Occupancy Tax

August 10, 2012 by · Comments Off on Red Bluff Firms Up RV Park Occupancy Tax 

The city of Red Bluff, Calif., has its argument in writing, and in November it will be up to the voters.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Red Bluff City Council approved a proposed argument to appear on the upcoming ballot on why it believes commercial recreational vehicle parks should be subject to paying the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), the Chico Enterprise-Record reported.

Mayor Forrest Flynn praised the work of City Manager Richard Crabtree, who authored the argument.

He said he especially liked how Crabtree referenced that TOT money is used to support police and fire services and not just the chamber of commerce.

After years of not collecting TOT tax from RV parks, the city changed gears in recent years and tried to collect from Durango RV Resort.

The council eventually amended a previously ambiguous ordinance to include RV parks.

Durango representatives have said the tax puts them at an unfair disadvantage as they are the only business being targeted and other RV parks outside city limits would not be subject.

On July 17, the council voted to put the question to voters.

City staff estimates the city will receive an additional $100,000 a year in revenue, if voters agree that RV parks should be taxed under the existing TOT ordinance.

RV Park Tax Dispute Heads to a Fall Solution?

July 20, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

A long-simmering dispute between the city of Red Bluff, Calif., and its only RV park over the transient occupancy tax may be settled on the November ballot.

The city council this week voted 4-1 to submit to voters an ordinance restating what’s already on the books — that the 10 percent “bed” tax applies to RV parks, camping sites and campgrounds, the Redding Record-Searchlight reported.

The council’s action stems from efforts over recent years to collect the tax from Durango RV Resort, which opened in 2008.

In June 2011, city Finance Director Sandy Ryan sent a letter to resort management demanding almost $42,000 of taxes, interest and penalties.

While the city has maintained such facilities have been covered by its ordinance all along, it wasn’t until September that it was amended to specifically name RV parks and campgrounds in the definition of “hotel.” Officials at the time deemed the move a clarification, not an expansion of the tax.

City Manager Rick Crabtree said Thursday (July 19) that Durango lawyers disagreed, arguing the move was illegal under Proposition 218, the 1996 Right to Vote on Taxes Act, and suggesting the matter be put on the ballot.

“Rather than entering into a potentially protracted and expensive legal battle over these issues, staff recommends that the City Council submit the issue to voters for resolution,” Crabtree wrote in a report to the council.

He estimated the city’s loss in revenue from the 174-space resort at $52,000 for the first six months of this year.

Contacted Thursday, Durango co-manager Pam Cappello said she was concerned about how the tax would affect the business and its “competitive edge.”

“There’s not so much consideration for the fiscal impact to the resort,” she said. Still, Cappello looks forward to a resolution of the issue.

“We now have an opportunity to present this to the people of Red Bluff and let them make a decision,” she said.

Red Bluff’s original ordinance was adopted in 1965, setting the bed tax at 4 percent, and it was amended several times over the years.

The tax applies only to stays of 30 days or less and proceeds go into the general fund.

In Redding, RV parks pay a 10 percent bed tax, Deputy City Manager Greg Clark said.

Also Thursday, Councilman Bob Carrel  said he dissented on Tuesday’s vote because he believed a ballot measure was unnecessary.

“I just felt we had a strong enough ordinance,” he said.

Meanwhile, Durango lawyers have since scheduled an Aug. 23 meeting with city officials, Crabtree said, well past the Aug. 10 deadline to drop it from the ballot.

The election is expected to cost about $5,000.

Town to Decide Next Step for RV Park Guest Tax

July 17, 2012 by · Comments Off on Town to Decide Next Step for RV Park Guest Tax 

The debate over whether RV parks in Red Bluff, Calif., should be subject to Transient Occupancy Tax fees could be left up to Red Bluff voters to decide.

The city council will consider a resolution at its meeting tonight (July 17) to put the issue on the November ballot, the Red Bluff Daily News reported.

A four-fifths vote is required by the council to submit the measure.

A staff report estimates the city would have received an additional $52,000 in revenue during the first six months of 2012 had it not been in a dispute over the ordinance with Durango RV Park.

The city imposes a 10 percent tax on room fees to guests in a wide variety of commercial lodging establishments, but has battled for years over whether language in a 1965 ordinance included recreational vehicle parks and campgrounds.

In September 2011, the council amended its ordinance to specifically list RV parks and campgrounds.

Still, according to a staff report, the city is being questioned over the historical definition of hotel used in the ordinance.

Rather than entering into a potentially protracted and expensive legal battle over these issues, staff recommends that the city council submit the issue to the voters for resolution, the staff report said.

The proposed ballot measure would be limited to occupancies that last for fewer than 30 days.

Voters turned down a 2004 ballot measure that would have increased the transient occupancy tax from 10 percent to 12 percent.

The tax started at 4 percent when it was implemented in 1965.

Officials Exclude Private Campgrounds from New Tax Plan

June 14, 2012 by · Comments Off on Officials Exclude Private Campgrounds from New Tax Plan 

Amador County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday (June 12) to direct staff to prepare a hotel-motel tax increase measure that would exclude any taxes on campgrounds in unincorporated Amador County, located east of Sacramento, Calif.

The so-called Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) would change hotel and motel taxes from 6 percent to 10 percent. County Counsel Greg Gillott reported on a list of 13 campgrounds that could have a TOT, and 15 that were either state or federally owned and would not fall under county jurisdiction, TSPN-TV, Jackson, reported.

The board directed Gillott to prepare draft measure language for the board to consider June 26, and still be able to place it on the November ballot.

Supervisor Brian Oneto dissented and supported applying it to camping and RV parks. Jim Gullett of Amador Business Council said an unnamed business council member, the largest payer of TOT in Plymouth, would be at a disadvantage as Plymouth is trying to raise its TOT to 10 percent, and it would affect his park. But Gullett said the owner would not oppose the ballot measure and would remain neutral on the issue.

Supervisor John Plasse said TOT on private campgrounds puts them at a distinct disadvantage from a pricing standpoint alone, and federal campgrounds do not face the same regulations. He supported “bringing the county TOT in line with the cities, but I don’t think it’s the right time.” He didn’t want to waste money to make the effort right now.

Supervisor Ted Novelli said Tuolumne County’s measure to shift TOT to camping failed, and 12 of 15 fire protection tax measures failed in recent primary elections. Gullett said the Tuolumne defeat was substantial, but Amador Business Council strongly supports taking the TOT to 10 percent, and would support exempting camping and RV parks. Oneto said “even with a broad-based effort in this election environment, it could still fail.”

Gullett spoke to Mother Lode Tea Party, whose members supported separation of business from government. Al Bozzo of the Amador Business Council said they are in no way, shape or form trying to underwrite private entities. They are trying to promote Amador as a brand to try to compete with other areas spending millions to do what the Business Council is trying to do. That is to encourage people to visit and spend money, to move here and pay property taxes, and to move their businesses here.

Gullett said the public-private partnership builds jobs.

Voters Reject Campground Occupancy Tax

June 7, 2012 by · Comments Off on Voters Reject Campground Occupancy Tax 

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.

City Council Balks on Occupancy Tax for RV Park

July 22, 2011 by · Comments Off on City Council Balks on Occupancy Tax for RV Park 

Whether Durango RV Resort will pay transient occupancy tax (TOT) to Red Bluff, Calif., is still undecided after the city council Tuesday (July 19) voted to table a decision to amend the TOT ordinance to explicitly include recreational vehicle parks and campgrounds, the Red Bluff Daily News reported.

The council voted 3-1-1 to table the decision as recommended by Councilman Rob Schmid. Councilwoman Daniele Jackson voted no, and councilman Wayne Brown was absent.

Durango owner Gary Breen questioned the council’s legal ability to approve the amendment, which would change and expand the existing tax base.

Proposition 218, passed by California voters in 1996, requires local governments to allow those who would be affected to vote on proposed taxes.

The law does not apply in this case, as this is not a new tax, City Attorney Richard Crabtree said. The city has never wavered on its position that the ordinance already includes RV parks and campgrounds.

“We don’t view this as an expansion of the tax base, so Prop 218 does not prohibit adoption of the ordinance before you,” Crabtree told the council.

Schmid stopped short of giving his own interpretation as to whether the ordinance already includes RVs, but said if the city is looking at rewriting the ordinance to clarify it, then it means the ordinance is open to interpretation and subjected to becoming matter for litigation. He wanted a second opinion on whether approval of the amendment would conflict with the law under Proposition 218.

The Red Bluff-Tehama County Chamber of Commerce supports the proposed amendment because it would create an ordinance that would leave no doubt, supposition or room for interpretation as to whether RV parks and campgrounds are covered in the TOT ordinance, said Chairman Greg Stevens, who spoke on behalf of the Chamber Executive Committee.

However, the chamber does not agree with the city’s interpretation that RV parks and campgrounds are already included in the ordinance as it is written, nor does it support the city wanting to collect retroactive taxes from Durango, especially considering that some hotels were forgiven following a 2009 audit that showed they had not been in compliance with the ordinance but promised to comply going forward, Stevens said.

“It’s not Durango’s fault it took the city a year to change the ordinance,” he said.

A handful of speakers representing downtown businesses and Durango employees and guests spoke on behalf of the RV park pointing out the many benefits and contributions it has provided to the city and community. They cautioned the city about the message it was sending in trying to single out Durango.

“It’s sad that the city would go after the best thing that’s happened to Red Bluff in a long time,” said Irene Fuller.

The dispute between the city and Durango over TOT has been ongoing since Durango opened in 2008.

There have been ongoing efforts since 2009 to get Durango to voluntarily comply, Crabtree said.

The city estimates Durango owes about $42,000 in TOT going back to June 2010.

Breen said toward the end of his first month of operation, on Aug. 28, 2008, he tried to pay TOT but a city worker refused to accept his check, saying RV parks were not covered under the city’s ordinance.

After reviewing the ordinance with his own legal council, Breen elected not to charge his guests TOT.

“There’s nothing in that ordinance, nothing that states RV parks,” Breen said.

He supports TOT because he knows the city needs revenue, but TOT needs to be implemented correctly and legally, Breen said. He wants to work with the city and county to develop a fair and equitable ordinance that would create a level playing field for all RV parks. He did not think it fair that Durango was the only RV park that would be subject to TOT, while others in the county did not have to collect and pay TOT. He would like the city to consider a phase-in TOT that would allow him to slowly increase his rates without negatively impacting his business.

Breen said he has tried to work with the city, but after three years of going back and forth in this ridiculous process he has turned negative because “all I get is this personal vendetta about this big, bad RV park that’s not paying their TOT when it’s not even written right.”

He mentioned a number of problems he has with the city, including the city’s refusal to allow him to put up a sign that would direct visitors to his resort without having to drive through the Food Maxx parking lot and the lack of appreciation for the land he donated to the city. The city cannot even maintain the area and has instead allowed it to become a refuge for the homeless, he said.

Schmid and Councilman Forrest Flynn said there are a lot of unresolved issues between the city and Durango, but they could not be addressed Tuesday, as the council was only there to discuss the verbiage of the ordinance.

Hotel owner Barry Jesrani said TOT issues go beyond the rift between Durango and the city. In fact, the city’s entire TOT policy needs to be re-examined and made clear. There are hotel owners who are still confused about how to collect TOT and from whom to collect it.

“The city needs to provide hotels with a uniform procedure on how to collect TOT,” Jesrani said.

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