MADERA — At their regular meeting today (March 10), the Madera County Board of Supervisors postponed a discussion about a potential ballot measure to hike the County’s Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) rate. Supervisors have been considering asking voters to approve the TOT hike as a means to fund stepped up wildfire prevention efforts within eastern Madera County.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, county staff requested supervisors pull the item from the agenda. That item had the board considering three different options for structuring the potential ballot measure, including: a “General Purpose Increase” in the TOT, a “Special Purpose Increase” in the TOT and a plan to “reach out to Visit Yosemite: Madera County to see if there is an interest within the Madera County Tourism Business Improvement District to amend the management plan to include a wildfire prevention component and zone — and to increase the Business Improvement District assessment to fund such efforts.”
At today’s meeting, Deputy County Administrative Officer Joel Bugay explained to supervisors that one of the three options had turned out to be problematic so staff needed to postpone for a week its board presentation. Bugay did not specify which of the three options was no longer feasible.
Supervisors have been considering floating a ballot measure to hike the county TOT rate since last year, with the effort gaining momentum after Mariposa County’s successful 2018 ballot measure raised TOT there an additional 2 percent.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who supports a TOT increase, wants the additional revenues collected to help fund a new fire reduction district. “Statewide, TOT tax by county is anywhere from 9 to 17 percent,” Wheeler has pointed out. “We aren’t asking for anything extravagant here.”
But several supervisors have voiced their concerns that a countywide TOT hike could negatively impact revenues at hotels and tourism-related businesses in other parts of the county. “Higher room rates in Madera could make the hotels less competitive” and could discourage larger groups and conventions from booking their events in Madera County, District 2 Supervisor David Rogers has suggested.
At a board meeting on Feb. 18, the board debated hiring a pollster to gauge county residents’ appetite for an increase in the TOT rate from its current 11 percent — which includes a 2 percent levy for the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) — to a total future rate of between 13 to 15 percent.
TOT revenues, which added $3.9 million to Madera County’s coffers in 2019, are collected mostly from out-of-area visitors staying at county hotels and short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO.
Tourism-related spending currently generates between 50 to 60 percent of the county’s overall sales tax revenues, according to county statistics, while out-of-county visitors contribute an estimated 95 to 98 percent to TOT revenues.
A 2 percent hike in the TOT rate would bring the county an estimated $850,000 to $1 million a year in additional revenue.