Supervisors to hold 'assessment' public hearing

TBID income provides $450,000 annually to the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau

bwilkinson@sierrastar.comMay 6, 2014 

The Madera County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing June 3 before voting on the request of the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau for the county to continue its agreement to collect and distribute funds raised by the lodging industry for tourism promotion for the next 10 years.

A hearing was held Tuesday concerning the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) agreement that was established by the bureau in 2009, and ends Dec. 31. The bureau is seeking a 10-year renewal that would run from Jan. 5, 2015, through Jan. 4, 2025.

An alternative funding source, the TBID was established after the county cut the bureau's $260,000 annual funding during January, 2010 budget hearings. Prior to the cut, the county provided funds to the visitor's bureau marketing efforts for more than 20 years — marketing efforts that enable Madera County to compete in the highly competitive tourism industry.

The Tourism Business Improvement District has allowed the lodging industry located in the unincorporated areas of the county to add a 2% assessment to the then 9% county hotel transient occupancy tax (bed tax), with the additional 2% earmarked exclusively to the bureau.

The county approved the TBID, and agreed to collect and distribute the funds for the bureau for five years.

Funds from the TBID, which includes nearly 70 hotels, motels, resorts, B&Bs, campgrounds, vacation home rentals, RV resorts, and conference centers, have provided the bureau with about $450,000 a year over the past five years. The bureau's current annual budget is $550,00, with the additional $100,000 raised by the bureau through memberships, visitor center gift shop, advertising opportunities, and other revenue sources.

If the renewal is approved, funds will be used for sales and marketing (80% - $360,000), administration (17.5% - $78,750), contingency (2% - $9,000), and county collection costs (2% - $2,250).

Because the TBID funds are paid by lodging guests, there is no fiscal impact to the county general fund.

At a supervisor's meeting on April 15, Dave Wolin questioned the effectiveness of the visitor's bureau and voiced concern over a 10-year agreement. In a letter sent to the supervisors prior to the April 15 meeting, Wolin said there are some important questions to be asked prior to approval of the TBID and that drastic changes need to be made to the agreement before approval, including the appointment of a non partisan, independent board to provide oversight of the bureau's budget.

Only one person at Tuesday's meeting spoke against assessment, Anil Patel, owner of America's Best Value Inn on Highway 99 near Ave. 18 1/2.

In contrast, a number of bureau and TBID supporters, who were not present at the earlier meeting, spoke in favor of the 10-year extension.

Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Darin Soukup, speaking on behalf of the chamber board, gave high praise for the bureau, stating the invaluable tourism partnerships the bureau has formed.

Bass Lake real estate broker Steve Welch, who helped establish the bureau in 1986 when he was executive vice president of The Pines Resort, said the bureau has played a large role in contributing the the county's general fund with the bed tax, growing from $200,000 in 1986 to more than $2 million in 2013.

DeeAnn Edwards, manager of the Madera Hampton Inn, thanked the bureau for their efforts.

"Thanks to the bureau, we are busy with tour buses and the bureau's support has helped us accomplish out goals," Edwards said.

Lodging sales have grown in the county from $759,940 in 1977-1978 to $22.7 million in 2012-2013. Bed tax from those sales have provided the county $38,000 in 1977-1978 and more than $2 million in 2012-2013.

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