Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM) spoke with Brian Schaeffer, the executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) about how the association’s 2018 went and some of the legislative issues facing park owners in the state.
WCM: How have things been going for TACO in 2018? Are you seeing strong membership numbers?
Schaeffer: For starters, the parks are full. There is always a little bit of a slow down during the transition from summer to fall, basically when school starts back up, but the winter snowbird season is very, very strong. Everybody is booked solid.
A lot of the parks that are in areas where we have really strong workforces are also seeing good numbers. So, whether that’s oil fields in west Texas or technology in Austin and medical in Houston. A lot of the parks in these areas are filled with seasonal workers
Of course, the Houston area has recovered well from Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. Corpus Christi and Rockport are doing good. Some of those areas, in general, are still working to recover in terms of their entire economies, but the parks are doing great. Because, again, you’ve got a lot of workers in to restore those areas and many of those workers are in RVs. So, it’s actually, I don’t know how to put it, but basically when there’s disasters, such as what you have now in the Carolinas, the parks are actually going to do pretty well on the back side of that. I realize there are some parks that are probably completely wiped out. But the parks that sustained, they’re going to actually do pretty well as a result of the storm. So, it’s just that weird phenomenon in our industry.
There seems to be an ongoing increase in legal and legislative issues. So, whether that’s property tax or water billing issues or just general non-payment and trespass and so forth, we are getting more and more calls and emails every day on the legal and legislative fronts. That’s really become our number one benefit and consequently our membership we think is going to spike up. We’re not quite done collecting dues, but we’re probably up somewhere around 7% to 8% and we think we may be up as much as 10% by the time we’re done collecting. Which for an association like ours is pretty good numbers.
WCM: On the legislative side, what are some of the big concerns owners face?
Schaeffer: One is later school start dates. We had passed a later school start date probably eight or 10 years ago and then what happened was the session before last during a special session and kind of at the midnight hour there was something passed where schools could declare themselves a “school of innovation,” which means they can do lots of different things that would theoretically make their students smarter. There was a list of 100 or more items that qualified a school for that status and buried in there was the fact that they could control their own school start dates, which meant negating the law that was already passed.
What’s interesting, all of these schools have declared that they are now schools of innovation but they haven’t done one thing out of the 100 things they could do to make their kids smarter. But what they did do was screw up the school start date, so really that whole thing as far as we’re concerned was just a sham, so the teachers and the superintendents could get control of their schedule again and start school whenever they want to. So, revisiting the school start date is one big item for us.
Another one is property taxes, because commercial property taxes in Texas has skyrocketed and it’s not so much the rates have gone up, it’s the valuation. So, again, about three sessions ago, we passed a deal which said on the residential side you could only go up 10% a year. So, about that time is when the appraisal districts said, “Oh. Well, let’s start taking a look at businesses and if there’s any businesses in particular that have kind of been flying under the radar, let’s go get them,” and RV parks have been one of those targets. So, we have members who have had their taxes go up anywhere from 50% to 400% in the last two to three years.
And those are increases that you cannot plan for or sustain, so we’re working at either putting some caps in or figuring out some way where you can’t keep jacking with businesses on the property tax side. Because, you have the Governor and everybody else out there saying, “Oh, we’re a pro-business state.” Well, the secret’s getting out there that you’re not a pro-business state if you’re willing to screw every business in the state in terms of their property tax, which is in essence a tactical income tax. Because, if you don’t like the rate you’re being taxed the other thing they can do is open your books. Well, if you’re going to open your books then that becomes an income tax and is no longer a property tax. So, anyway, that’s a hot button.
WCM: You also have been doing some work on water billing issues?
Schaeffer: Water is a big deal everywhere now. We helped pass a law several sessions ago that said RV parks should be treated like any other business, which means they get charged through a meter fee for the water they use that is coming in. Well, now, many of the municipalities are saying, “Oh, no. We need to charge you per site and then we’ll allocate you water, which is water you’ll never use,” and again, the net result is that owners are paying 500% more per month for their water in some cases. So, we thought we had a law passed to negate that. Some of the cities have tried some stuff to undercut it, so we’re going to go back and look at that law again.
WCM: Is the RV park and campground sector growing in Texas? Have you been seeing a new builds or expansions occurring?
Schaeffer: We have been seeing quite a few expansions, not so many new builds because land has become pricey. Raw material prices ha ve just gone up exponentially, so there’s not as many new builds, but there are quite a few expansion opportunities occurring.
To read more of this Q&A make sure to pick up the November issue of WCM.