The lodging industry in Calaveras County continues to be blindsided by the Calaveras Visitors Bureau (CVB). The CVB, which receives the majority of its funding through lodging, and for whom lodging owners rely on to promote and advocate their business, announced its position to stand behind a decision to partner with Citizens for a Better Calaveras (CBC) which includes a select coalition of special interest groups to raise the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) from 6 percent to10 percent.
• April 2012: the first time that lodging members were made aware that the CVB was considering a Tourism Marketing District tax (TMD,) and that CVB was already in negotiations with Civitas Group Consulting.
• September 2012: the first time that lodging was made aware that CVB had made a backdoor deal with CBC’s special interest groups. CVB expected lodging members to decide whether they wanted to be taxed through a TMD or a TOT increase.
• Nov. 13, 2012: three lodging members attended a CVB board meeting with petition signatures from many lodging members against CBC partnership. Steve Markle indicated that CVB would step back from the initiative if we were to come back with at least 50 percent plus one signatures.
• Nov. 28, 2012: Lodging attends CVB ad hoc meeting with over 75 percent of the majority of lodging signatures. Rich Taborek stated several times that he had the required signed petitions, and not one board member made a motion to even acknowledge the petitions. CVB Executive Lisa Bolton told Taborek that she had seen his presentation and it was “flawed,” and that the members of the lodging community didn’t get all of the correct information and therefore didn’t fully understand and were confused about what they signed.
• At no time did the CVB poll its members, especially affected lodging members regarding their position.
Although the meeting was called specifically for the purpose of a vote, the meeting ended without a vote. CVB basically dismissed and disregarded the lodging community, and disrespected lodging members by denying them their due process of either a yes or no vote; only to then read in the newspaper CVB’s decision to back CBC, while implying that lodging has been an integral part of the decision process from its inception.
Many lodging members have experienced decreases since 2008, but have noticed a significant increase in “day-trippers” who come in on buses, or are within a 1-2 hour drive home. We have seen an increase in guests negotiating an even lower price than the offered special, which guests say needs to include the TOT tax. We are forced to lower our prices while still maintaining our level of service. While county tourism remains strong, overnight lodging is down, as confirmed by county tax records “all as compared to 2007”:
2008: down 2 percent
2009: down 19 percent
2010: down 15 percent
2011: down 11 percent
Make no mistake that if we are asking people to spend their money, they want the most they can get, for the least that they can spend. Why not promote 6 percent as a cost savings to entice tourists.
• No one is arguing that CBC special interest groups aren’t a valued entity here in the county.
• There are all kinds of organizations here in Calaveras that all do a great deal to benefit the “quality of life and business” besides those cited by CVB.
• It is important to distinguish that “quality of life” has nothing to do with tourism.
• CBC interest groups generate few actual tourism dollars, so they should not be receiving tourism monies.
• This isn’t just a 4 percent increase in TOT rate. CBC is hoping for a two-thirds super-majority vote which means that CBC will control the entire 10 percent. The CBC coalition has positioned itself so well to receive TOT monies, that if the vote succeeds, and CVB doesn’t align with CBC, CVB can be cut out of the TOT completely.
• One key reason that CVB is in favor of this initiative passing is: TOT monies will be taken out of the hands of the county Board of Supervisors.
• The CVB states that at any time, the Board of Supervisors can eliminate its funding. To date, the supervisors have never eliminated CVB funding. Funding was decreased for a time to 30 percent of TOT proceeds, but has been reinstated to the normal 33 percent.
• If this initiative passes, there will no longer be any TOT funds going to the General Fund or to Public Works. Instead, it will go directly and exclusively to the CBC’s six (6) special interest groups.
• Pat McGreevy stated in a previous article that the Sheriff’s Office will continue to receive the same 20 percent of TOT proceeds that they have been receiving. McGreevy now states that if TOT passes it would mean enough money for two new deputies to be hired. How? McGreevy’s figures don’t add up. McGreevy, founder/chief architect of the CBC and the proposed TOT increase initiative has two conflicting statements.
• McGreevy also stated that people want good roads and to keep potholes filled. However, Steve Wilensky, who brokered this deal with CVB, publically stated that “roads will go away.” As of this writing, the CBC proposed initiative clearly states: 2 percent to sheriff, 4 percent to CVB and 4 percent to CBC members. No roads.
• The CVB states that they will be able to work to create and actively promote lodging packages and co-op marketing opportunities to give visitors incentives to stay and play. What is preventing CVB from promoting packages now via its existing website, Facebook, etc., other than time and effort?
What is ethical about CBC trying to steal TOT tourism monies, cutting out roads and general fund services, threatening to exclude a non-supportive CVB, all to fund their own six select groups? Is this what CBC considers fair business practice?
What is ethical about CVB supporting CBC against the clearly expressed wishes of the majority of the lodging businesses affected by this, their very own members?
Arline Taborek is the co-proprietor of Dunbar House, a bed and breakfast in Murphys. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.