After months of deliberation, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to place a Transient Occupancy Tax increase from 6 percent to 12 percent on the Nov. 6 statewide general election ballot.
The measure will need a 50-percent-plus-one vote to pass and would add a projected $600,000 annually to the county’s General Fund. The tax applies to all “transients” who spend less than 30 days in “hotels,” which are broadly defined to encompass motels, short-term rentals, mobile homes and other temporary lodging.
District 3 Supervisor Michael Oliveira was the only board member to vote against the item, stating that he believed the measure should be modified to a special tax, funding only public safety through law enforcement and fire services, infrastructure and road repairs, and the Calaveras Visitors Bureau.
However, a special tax would require a two-thirds majority vote and was not recommended by staff to the supervisors for that reason.
Calaveras County Administrative Officer Timothy Lutz told Oliveira that the county has historically used general TOT monies to fund the services that Oliveira listed and would most likely continue to do so.
“Based on the polling, the polling company felt comfortable that a general tax would prevail, but as for that two-thirds threshold on a special tax, it would be fairly close,” said Lutz.
During the public comment session, District 5 supervisorial candidate Ben Stopper sided with Oliveira.
“We are presenting to people a vote and saying that our intention is to use this money for these things. That may be genuine, but three or four years down the road, other people may have different intentions for that money,” said Stopper.
“Even if you need that two-thirds vote, I think you will pull more support and more people will vote for a tax if they know where it’s going.” Stopper concluded. “I would like to have the security to see where that money goes, because you can’t always trust who may be on the board in the future.”
However, most public commenters supported the proposed TOT increase, stating it was a “fair tax” due to the comparatively high TOT rates in neighboring counties and the burden vacationers put on county infrastructure and services.
Al Segalla of the Calaveras Taxpayers Association was the only person to speak out against a TOT increase, stating that it was “a case of taxation without representation.”
“There is no one here representing the people that come to our county and enjoy our motels and short-term rentals, so I’m it,” said Segalla. “This is not free money. If you tax people that come to our county $600,000, that’s $600,000 they don’t have to buy worms or dinners or pizza or something else.”
Segalla continued, “When you double the tax, it could potentially have a reduction in the number of visitors, and if that reduction were like 6 percent, you’ll be right back where you are now with the same income and less people. We have a history of incredibly good work by our visitors bureau operating on a 6 percent TOT; we’re better than other counties that charge two or three times as much. so what is the reason for doubling it?”
There was little discussion following public comments, though Oliveira maintained his position.
“I don’t want to see what happened in the past where different board members started chipping away and carving things out of this fund,” said Oliveira. “It’s a bait-and-switch in some circumstances, and I don’t feel comfortable doing that as a board member.”
In other news:
**Contractor hired for marijuana eradication
The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to execute an agreement in the amount of $100,000 with contractor Dirty Werks of Sutter Creek to provide cannabis eradication and abatement services on an “as needed” basis. The terms of the agreement will be effective through June 30, 2019, and the funding will be provided by the county’s General Fund.
At the meeting, Capt. Jim Macedo explained that the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office would make assessments based on the size and terrain of illegal grows and whether they exhibit civil and/or criminal violations to determine whether Dirty Werks should be consulted for additional eradication services. The contract will be used predominantly for criminal investigations, though there may be joint cases that could involve Code Enforcement, Macedo said.
Members of the public requested that the Sheriff’s Office be transparent in detailing reports of all marijuana raids, based on the concern that the department would utilize these services to prioritize pursuing formerly legal growers who provided addresses to the county at the time of registration during the Urgency Ordinance before the supervisors enacted a cannabis cultivation ban.
Sheriff Rick DiBasilio could not be reached by press time to respond to this concern.
Also mentioned in public comment was a proposal that the Sheriff’s Office contract with a laboratory to process confiscated cannabis rather than destroying it, which could offer an alternative funding source for eradication services.
In response to the proposal, Macedo responded, “I don’t think the county would appreciate us taking marijuana and shipping it off to a lab to be used by someone else. Once it touches our hands, we are responsible for it; we certainly don’t want to put that back into the public or lose control of that product. I don’t think the Sheriff’s Office should be in business with handing marijuana over to any lab other than a testing facility for evidentiary purposes.”
**Sheriff responds to Bearcat backlash
During county staff announcements, DiBasilio told supervisors that he has been searching for alternative sources of funding for the county’s new $400,000 armored vehicle, a Lenco Bearcat, to avoid impacting the General Fund. The board agreed to provide $200,000 from the General Fund to pay for the vehicle at a budget hearing in June, and the rest of the purchase price would be divided between donations from the Friends of the Calaveras Sheriff’s Office of $50,000 and AB 443 funds in the amount of $150,000.
DiBasilio could not be reached for further comment.
**Woodsmoke reduction program approved
The supervisors convened as the Calaveras County Air Pollution Control District Board to approve $90,000 in grants to fund the replacement of “old, inefficient woodstoves with cleaner-burning and more efficient devices” through the Woodsmoke Reduction Pilot Program.
The program is part of a larger statewide program called California Climate Investments that works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve public health and the environment.
Despite opposition during public comments, the board members agreed that the program is voluntary, and is primarily aimed at providing low-income applicants cleaner-burning woodstoves.
Under the program, low-income applicants can receive a voucher worth up to $3,500 and standard applicants can receive a $1,000 voucher to pay for a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-certified woodstove or home heating device fueled by natural gas, propane or electricity.
The district would receive approximately 10 percent of the grant funds for administrative costs.
**Park commission spared the ax
The Board of Supervisors opted to table an item that proposed disbanding the Calaveras County Parks and Recreation Commission after District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi suggested the possibility of receiving additional state funding in the near future.
“There’s an opportunity here that we may miss,” said Garamendi. “I don’t want to disband just to bring it back next year.”
The commission was formed in 2007 to advise the Board of Supervisors on the allocation of $1.2 million in Proposition 40 funds for park and recreational improvements within the county.
In 2009, the commission established procedures to appoint members representing each supervisorial district, the Calaveras County Water District and the San Andreas Recreation and Parks District. However, in recent years, both participation and funding have been low.
After a recommendation by Garamendi, the board was polled and unanimously tasked staff with monitoring the commission in future months and voted to allow the commission to continue for the time being.