Plumas County voters will see two local tax measures on their November general election ballots.
The first measure, known as Measure C, would raise the transient occupancy tax (TOT) by 2 percent, from 9 percent to 11 percent. TOT is a bed tax collected by lodging providers.
The second measure, known as Measure D, would raise the local sales tax by 0.25 percent, to 7.5 percent.
The TOT increase is expected to raise an additional $242,626 for the county. The sales tax increase is estimated to bring in an additional $479,822.
The increases would sunset in 2016.
The measures will need a simple majority to pass.
The sales tax increase would include the city of Portola, but the TOT would not. The Portola City Council declined Wednesday, June 27, to follow suit with a TOT measure of its own.
Plumas supervisors unanimously passed the necessary ordinances and resolutions to place the two county measures on the ballot at a special meeting Tuesday, June 26.
The move came as the county faces a $3 million hole in its general fund budget. Supervisors went ahead and adopted a recommended budget at the June 26 meeting, despite there being “lots of holes,” in the words of budget consultant Susan Scarlett. Adoption was necessary so the county could continue to pay its bills as of July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
At Scarlett’s recommendation, supervisors directed department heads to prepare revised budgets that achieve a 10 percent across-the-board reduction and to begin meeting with Scarlett the week of July 16. Scarlett is expected to present a revised budget with much harder numbers to the supervisors at their Aug. 7 meeting.
She will be getting some reinforcement in the form of Chris Hollingsworth, an assistant auditor from Calaveras County, who will help the Plumas County Auditor’s Office with end-of-year accounting.
Craig Goodman, a seasoned accountant with much public experience, will come at the beginning of August to help out.
The county lost its budget officer when County Administrative Officer Jack Ingstad was fired and its auditor when Shawn Montgomery resigned earlier this year.
Some lodging providers wanted the supervisors to earmark the additional TOT funds for tourism marketing, but the supervisors resisted that idea.
For one thing, if the funds were earmarked for a specific purpose, then the tax increase would be a special tax, not a general tax, and would require a super-majority two-thirds vote to pass, County Counsel Craig Settlemire explained.
The board also wanted the flexibility to spend the money “on the thing that needs it the most at that time,” in the words of Supervisor Sherrie Thrall.
If the board did target the money for tourism, “Who do we give it to?” Thrall asked. “The chambers? Some don’t like that. Everyone thinks they can do a better job.”
Supervisor Lori Simpson fought for the sunset clause.
Chairman Robert Meacher pointed out that even with the increase, the county wouldn’t keep up with inflation.
Thrall liked the accountability of having to go back to the voters if the county wanted to extend the tax beyond 2016. “If voters don’t like what we do with the money, they can vote it down, in addition to voting us out.”
“The sunset is a selling point to voters,” Supervisor Terry Swofford said. “People don’t trust politicians.”
Swofford said he thought the measures would be a “tough sell anyway. Voters are not in any mood to pay more taxes.”
Supervisor Jon Kennedy said he thought it would be “arrogant” of the board not to let voters have a say.
Meacher agreed: “This lets voters determine the quality of life, the services they want. They have a financial say-so.”
Whether voters pass or defeat the measures, “it gives the board a mandate,” Meacher said.
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