Inn owners propose tax increase

September 10, 2003 11:00 pm

By ERIN MAYES

In a surprise turnaround, Tuolumne County hotel and motel owners are proposing that the transient occupancy tax their own customers pay be raised to 9 percent.

Until now, inn proprietors have strongly opposed suggestions that the tax go up. As a result, the TOT has remained at 8 percent for 20 years.

The TOT is a charge to hotel and motel guests. Most of the tax goes directly into the general funds of both Tuolumne County and the City of Sonora.

But it's the part that doesn't go to general funds that those in the tourism industry say is most important.

Twenty-five percent of the money goes to the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, which markets the area, resulting in more tourists and more money for the county.

"We know that the county is in need of more revenue," said Chris Link, president of the Tuolumne County Lodging Association and general manager of Best Western Sonora Oaks. "Instead of waiting to respond negatively, we wanted to come up with a positive suggestion."

The tax increase would need approval from a simple majority of voters, said County Clerk Tim Johnson. The soonest it could get on the ballot is March, although it might not happen until November 2004, he said.

Neighboring Angels Camp approved a 4 percent TOT increase in May, putting a 10 percent "bed tax" into effect July 1. And, Link said, 33 percent of that city's tax goes toward marketing.

"They decided they need to market their town more — it's very forward thinking," he said. "We also believe that our county can be very forward thinking as well."

The rest of Calaveras County charges a 6 percent TOT. In Mariposa County, hotel-motel customers pay an 11 percent tax.

Convincing voters a higher tax is needed should be easy, Link said, since county visitors — not the voters themselves — would pay the tax.