At least two members of the city council in Red Bluff, Calif., believe the council could have done more to avert the failure of Measure A, the transient occupancy tax ordinance that appeared on the Nov. 6 ballot, Red Bluff’s Record-Searchlight reported.
“We should have done a better job of conveying what it is and what it does,” said Councilwoman Daniele Jackson, referring to what’s often called TOT or bed tax, which is charged to visitors who stay in town less than 30 days. The measure aimed to make explicit that RV parks and campgrounds were subject to the 10% levy, just like hotels.
“I was expecting it to pass, and I’m extremely disappointed,” Jackson said.
With all seven precincts reporting as of Nov. 7, 1,120 voters, or 40%, supported the measure, while 1,711 or 60% opposed it.
Tax proceeds go to the city’s general fund, allowing it to pay for police and fire services as well as dole out a portion for promotional efforts by the Red Bluff-Tehama County Chamber of Commerce. Chamber CEO Dave Gowan said his group took no position on the measure.
“No, we didn’t,” Gowan said, “because we’re so close both with the RV park and the city.” He had few expectations for the vote. “I really didn’t know what the possible outcomes could be on this measure.”
The ballot measure arose from a long-standing dispute between the city and the Durango RV Resort, which opened in 2008. More than a year ago, Finance Director Sandy Ryan wrote to the park owner, demanding nearly $42,000 in taxes, interest and penalties.
The argument favoring the ballot measure estimated the city would receive $100,000 annually in much-needed revenue if Durango complied.
No opposing ballot argument was filed, although anti-A fliers were widely circulated. According to City Manager Rick Crabtree, at the heart of Durango’s legal opposition was an alleged violation of Proposition 218, the 1996 Right to Vote on Taxes Act, which ensured all new taxes and most charges on property owners be subject to voter approval.
But the city argued its TOT ordinance, first drafted in the 1960s, applied all along and in 2011 amended it to make it more explicit.
Before the election, Crabtree termed the ballot measure redundant, describing it as a small new ordinance that if passed would augment existing law and resolve the Prop. 218 issue.
And putting it to voters was preferable to waging a potentially costly legal battle, Crabtree has said.
“I was expecting more support,” Mayor Forrest Flynn said Tuesday. “I was very disappointed that it didn’t pass, but people look at (the word) tax and automatically say no.”
He emphasized the funds go to services such as police and fire, important assistance that’s available even to visitors.
“I guess we didn’t relay that as well as we should to citizens,” Flynn said. “I take full responsibility for not pushing it more.”
Neither Crabtree nor Durango Manager Kendall Donaldson returned phone calls Tuesday, but Flynn expects the council will see during the next couple of meetings a proposal from Crabtree, who also is the city’s attorney.