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County Visitor Tax Increase Proposed

Tourism in the Mother Lode region is a $212 million a year industry. Drastic cuts in state funding for marketing and support of organizations, such as the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, have forced these groups to look for other avenues to get and maintain tourist numbers and tourist dollars.

A proposal to raise the Transient Occupancy Tax, or TOT, by one percent in Tuolumne County is one way to fight a 50 percent cut in state tourism funding.

Chris Link, president of the Tuolumne County Lodging Association, says the proposed tax increase on tourists could generate between $280,000 and $380,000 a year. “That figure would depend on whether the whole proposal is taken up by the city and county or just part of it.”

Link said the increased revenue would go not only to marketing Tuolumne County but to general services, such as roads, law enforcement and fire protection for both Tuolumne County and City of Sonora.

“Right now raising the TOT from 8 to 9 percent it´s just a proposal only,” Link said. The proposal would have to be presented as a referendum and be approved by local voters.

Nanci Sikes with the Tuolumne County Visitor´s Bureau explained there´s a twist to the proposed expanding the T-O-T from hotels, motels and Inns to includeprivate campgrounds and RV parks. “That will be a change in what historically has been the base of the TOT.”

Sikes said the percentage of revenue spilt would stay the same. “The agreement that we are proposing would be exactly the same, with 25-percent of all TOT collected would fund tourism promotions.” The remainer goes into city and county coffers, Link interjected.

Proponents of the increase says they are careful to limit the increase tourists have to pay when visiting the Mother Lode.

“The key for most people on lodging is to keep (the TOT) below two digits ,” Link said. “Keep it at 9 percent and not cross over in to tens or elevens and be able to fund and support many things that need to be funded in this county. “

Link pointed out there comes a certain point when increasing the TOT can actually hurt tourism. “If you decrease tourism and raise the rate of taxation, it doesn´t help anyone.”

The Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau will present it´s 2003 Budget to the City of Sonora Monday night and the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Hear more about the tourism industry and what´s being done locally to market the region ths Sunday morning, Sept. 14, on radio stations Star 92.7 FM at 8 a.m., AM 1450 KVML at 9:30 a.m and at 10 a.m. on KKBN-93.5 FM.