Measure D would only raise TOT for visitors outside city limits

Richard DuPertuis

Voters living in unincorporated areas of Siskiyou County will determine on Nov. 2 whether or not to raise the transient occupancy tax (TOT) on hotels in their regions.

To address this year's severe budget shortfall, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the ordinance July 6. By law, it needs a majority vote of the electorate to become operative.

Only voters registered in unincorporated areas of the county will decide this issue through  a proposal called Measure D.

The TOT is not paid by citizens in Siskiyou County. It is paid only by people, usually visitors, who rent occupancy in a hotel for 30 days or less. The county adds TOT for stays outside of cities; the cities charge their own. For example, visitors lodging in Dunsmuir pay a 10 percent fee. Measure D calls for an increase in unincorporated county TOT from the existing 8 percent to 10 percent, matching Dunsmuir's and other cities' rates.

Proponents of Measure D say that the county budget is in crisis and that revenue must be raised. In a letter to the paper they said, “There have been cuts to everything, including fire protection, police protection, and even possible closure of the public libraries.” Those are the words of Roberta Van de Water and Carol Winston, co-chairs of Countywide Alliance of Library Friends (CALF), also born of the dire budget situation.

Faced with a complete loss of the library system, local communities rallied to rescue their branches. City Friends of the Libraries organized a representative group comprised of two local friends members from each of the 11 county branches to form CALF.

Members of CALF became avid Measure D promoters. “If passed by a simple majority of the voters, the measure is estimated to generate an additional $100,000 per year for the County General Fund, beginning Jan. 1, 2011... Passing Measure D would help support county services, and it does not increase your taxes,” their email said.

Monday, at the Dunsmuir Lodge, Eric Burger said he will probably oppose the measure. He carries the dubious honor of being the only operator in the Dunsmuir area whose business will be impacted should the voters decide to pass Measure D. His hotel is sited just outside of city limits south of town.

“It affects our business directly,” he said of the measure. “Which, of course, raises prices to our customers.” He said that the rate hike that he would pass on would increase the cost of his $80 rooms to $85 per day, and that his $89 rooms would go up to $96, concluding, “It makes tourists think about how long they will stay here.”

The county clerk's office reported that out of 25,628 registered voters in the county, Measure D will appear on the ballots of only 14,987 unincorporated region voters, and these voters will not be deciding whether to accept or reject a tax increase on themselves.

No arguments against the measure were filed with the clerk's office.

Yet a scant two years ago, voters in unincorporated Siskiyou County turned down a similar proposal.

2008's Measure M, which would have increased the TOT for hotel customers in unincorporated regions of the county from 8 percent to 10 percent, failed by a double-digit margin: 44.8% to 55.2%.

Former county tourism director Joanne Steele said that she used all the resources of her office to try to get Measure M passed. Monday, Steele said that she had learned from this experience. “This county is an anti-tax county,” she said. “The fact that someone else would be taxed doesn't matter to the populace.”

CALF member Karen Bowers said that if Measure D does succeed, she does not know how much, or if any, of the estimated $100,000 per year would go to the libraries. “We have spoken with [supervisors] Grace Bennett and Ed Valenzuela and they support us, but they can't guarantee where the funds will go, because they don't know what's coming up next year,” she said.

Bowers said that was all right with CALF. “We're glad to support Measure D,” she said, “Even if the libraries don't get any money.”