While it was full steam ahead in planning a meaningful and potentially profitable tourism program, two members of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors were a little hesitant to proceed without the entire county’s buy-in to the plan.
That was the situation as Susan Bryner, Lake Almanor representative for the steering committee for the Feather River Tourism Association (FRTA), made a presentation before supervisors at the regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 16, encouraging them to approve the plan.
If approved by supervisors, FRTA would begin raising funds to market Plumas County through a special tax on licensed lodgings that would be in addition to the county’s transient occupancy tax.
This is the third time someone from the association has made a presentation to supervisors from the tourism association. For four years that group has developed a plan and fundraised to finance its costs.Everything in Bryner’s extensive presentation, complete with bar graphs and pie charts, seemed to go smoothly until Supervisor Michael Sanchez of District 1 understood that Eastern Plumas County lodgings are not included in the agreement.
Sanchez said that no one from the tourism association has contacted him and those involved in Eastern Plumas tourism haven’t talked to him about the concept.
Yet that doesn’t mean that Sanchez isn’t in favor of the tourism-marketing plan. “You had me at ‘Hello,’” he told Bryner. But he is concerned about equal inclusion.
Bryner said many efforts have been made to entice business owners and managers catering to tourism lodgings on board with the concept. But she said only one business was interested. And that business is in Supervisor Jeff Engel’s District 5.
Sanchez said that he was blindsided by the information. and that he needed more time to get on board with the proposal.
Supervisor Lori Simpson tried to explain to Sanchez that this isn’t a new process. She said she’s aware of how hard the members of FRTA have worked to get the entire county involved, but those in Eastern Plumas were resistant.
Simpson explained that she has been involved with the tourism plan “since day one,” but a former supervisor is against involvement from Eastern Plumas. There have been “tons of meetings and they have gotten nowhere,” Simpson said.
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said at an early presentation she refused to support a plan that wasn’t countywide. “They took that to heart,” she said, meaning the committee, “and they got push back from the beginning,” from Eastern Plumas’ tourism people.
Thrall went on to say that she’s since changed her mind. When it comes to a vote at the next board meeting, she said she would support the plan.
Sanchez explained that Eastern Plumas County is the gateway to all that the county has to offer, especially in the way of recreation for people coming from Reno.
Bryner agreed saying that she would much prefer that guests use Highway 70 into the county rather than Highway 395 because they get to see so much more of the area and what it has to offer.
Supervisor Jeff Engel then joined Sanchez with his concerns about lack of representation. Engel has some large developments such as Gold Mountain and others in his district and he knows they disagree with seeing a higher TOT (transient occupancy tax) levied. It was pointed out that TOT and the tourism fee are two different things.
At length, Engel also said he wanted more time.
An unidentified member of the audience explained they are on a deadline. They have expended money on legal advice and that contract is set to expire soon.
Back on the agenda for a vote will be a proposal by the Feather River Tourism Association to approve a Tourism Investment District (TID) to grow a tourism industry. Supervisors are expected to vote on the proposal at the Tuesday, Nov. 3, meeting beginning at 11 a.m.
“Economic vitality is the most pressing issue for many in our community, individuals and businesses alike,” said Bryner in a letter to the Board of Supervisors dated Oct. 4.
When logging was prominent in Plumas County the schools benefited.
“Plumas County had some of the best schools in the state,” she explained. It also meant that services, businesses, public agencies and a cultural way of life benefited.
With the change, Bryner believes something must take its place and that is tourism and the industry to support it.
“Today, building a thriving tourism industry is one of our hopes for the future,” Bryner said.
At one time Plumas County was able to support a tourism program. A number of years ago the county was faced with a shortfall, according to Simpson. Supervisors were faced with funding the sheriff’s office, libraries and other services, or funding the tourism bureau, she explained. They decided to eliminate the tourism program.
It was more than four years ago that lodging providers and other businesses interested in tourism came together to discuss how to tackle the tourism industry.
According to FRTA, Plumas County is losing 2 percent of the travel market every year to the competition by not having a good tourism plan in place. In eight years, according to information Bryner presented to supervisors, that totals $14 million. “Current statistics show an even greater loss of market share,” she said.
The resulting group, from that early meeting, the Lake Almanor Area Steering Committee is working to improve Plumas County’s market share of tourism dollars.
And this can be accomplished through the formation of the Tourism Investment District representing Lake Almanor, Indian Valley and the Quincy areas.
TIDs are not new. They’re found throughout California in response to a decrease in available funding for tourism marketing, Bryner said.
“A TID allows the levy of an assessment on hotel or lodging guests,” she explained. The way that works is the assessment is collected by the provider, just like TOT is collected. That assessment must be used for marketing programs and infrastructure that improves the destination and can exhibit measurable results connected to lodging stays.
TID funds are managed by a nonprofit corporation. “Which in our case will be the Feather River Tourism Association,” Bryner explained.
While TOT and similar funds can be diverted for other uses, including funding local government operations, TID funding can’t be diverted to government programs. “And, unlike a member dues association, TID assessments are mandatory for the term, making funding much more stable,” she said.
The local proposal for FRTA is for five years.
FRTA members have raised $40,000 of the necessary $45,000 for legal services, Bryner told the board. They have met with individuals, held forums and meetings and participated in presentations around Plumas County. This work is all carried out by volunteers.
“We are now confident we can get the 51 percent (weighted vote) of our industry and move forward through the formal process and approval by county government to form the district,” Bryner said.
She estimated that once the TID is approved, the new district should realize about $288,000 in assessments in the first year. By the end of the first five years, Bryner anticipates as much as $400,000 every year.
Request from county
What Bryner and her group of supporters in the audience were requesting from supervisors was the opportunity to use services from county counsel and the tax collector’s office. County counsel would assist FRTA’s legal counsel.
Plumas County Counsel Craig Settlemire didn’t seem to have any issues with FRTA’s proposal. He did recommend that supervisors get it on the agenda as an action item and vote on it at the next meeting. At the Oct. 16 meeting it was an informational item and therefore couldn’t be acted upon.
Plumas County Tax Collector/Treasurer Julie White did have some concerns. She said FRTA members did approach her for information and services. However, she didn’t want to spend time on the proposal until supervisors approved it.
White also said that at this point, especially without the entire county participating, it would take a lot of time to come up with a way to track the TIDs being paid. She also said her department was offered 1 percent for its services, but that didn’t cover the costs.
Quincy resident Karen Kleven said that amount could be increased.
Bryner said that other counties are working with similar situations and have figured out the process. She thought that software might be available to White’s office.
White said it might be wiser to self-administer the fee, but it was pointed out that wasn’t a good idea. A separate agency, like the county, should do it.
White also expressed her concerns for the time it might require the county’s information technology department to develop a program. “I just put on the brakes,” White said, until she had direction from supervisors.
Bryner, who said she has considerable IT experience, explained that it is a relatively easy formula to follow.
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