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Measure would raise El Dorado hotel tax

Jo Rafferty

The adage “if the shoe fits, wear it” seems to be the case so far for El Dorado County ballot Measure H, its backers say.

This proposed amendment to raise the hotel-motel tax from 8 to 10 percent has been endorsed by just about every group in the county. However, the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce said it would table it before making a firm recommendation.

“There’s no opposition to my knowledge at all,” said county Supervisor Dave Solaro, who supports the ordinance.

All five supervisors are supporting the measure, along with the Agriculture Council, the Veterans Commission, the Joint Chambers Commission, Farm Trails and El Dorado County Sheriff Jeff Neves, among others.

Measure H brings the tax rate for non-residents staying in hotels, motels or similar lodgings in unincorporated areas of the county up to what it was a year and a half ago, according to Solaro. He said the occupancy tax had been increased to 10 percent by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors about 10 years ago.

“A court decision out of Santa Clara required voters to vote on these issues. The thing was, it was implemented by the board and not the voters,” Solaro said.

A letter written by Friends of Our Community states that many people don’t want to vote for the tax increase because they don’t understand it.

“We believe that the general population doesn’t understand who pays this tax and how it is to be used,” states the letter. “It is not a resident tax. Only visitors pay this tax.”

Measure H will not tax campgrounds or recreational vehicle parks. It does not apply to the city of South Lake Tahoe, only unincorporated areas.

Robin Ghramm, owner and general manager of Strawberry Lodge 17 miles west of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 50, says she doesn’t think a tax increase will affect her business.

“I don’t think it would (make a difference) because even our most expensive room would only go up $2.50 per night. Most people don’t even realize what the tax is so it’s not going to hurt anything,” said Ghramm.

Mike Carey, owner of St. Pauli Inn, 10 miles east of Pollock Pines, echoed Ghramm’s view.

“If the rate goes up from $64.80 to $66, for somebody going one night up skiing it really won’t make a difference,” he said.

The increase would bring the hotel-motel tax more in line with what other areas are charging, according to arguments for Measure H on the March ballot, which states:

“The current rate of 8 percent is lower than any of the surrounding communities. The City of Placerville is 10 percent, the City of South Lake Tahoe and the City of Sacramento are 12 percent.”

Taxes could only be raised if voted for by the public, the measure states.

“Under the measure, the Board of Supervisors would retain the authority to reduce the tax or modify administrative provisions relating to the tax without voter approval, but cannot further raise the tax without voter approval,” said Louis Green, county counsel.

Arguments for Measure H state it would generate an estimated $170,000 annually, which “will be pay for veterans’ needs, parks and recreation, fire services, road maintenance, cultural arts, sheriff’s deputies and other services that we use.”

“The hotel/motel tax that guests pay to stay in our community contributes necessary funding for improvements and maintenance,” states a letter written by the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce.

Money from the tax will also go to promotions of South Lake Tahoe, encouraging visitors to come back, the letter said.

“When visitors come to our community, they don’t just spend the night. They are likely to eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, purchase gas and food items, and visit our tourist attractions, all of which adds to the local economy,” it said.

“Tourism is an important business in El Dorado County,” said Bill Snodgrass, retired county agricultural commissioner and the treasurer of Friends of Our Community. “Measure H will provide approximately $170,000 to promote tourism, which will benefit both the lake and the West Slope.”

Jo Rafferty can be reached at 542-8006 or jrafferty@tahoedailytribune.com