Bills in the works as TCC seeks compromise
CARSON CITY – A bill draft request submitted to the Nevada Legislature Monday would achieve at least one component of Tahoe County without creating it, a Tahoe Citizens Committee lobbyist told state leaders.
The bill would statutorily establish a Convention and Visitor’s Authority strictly in Douglas County, with the goal of funding the bureau with the room tax money generated at Lake Tahoe – currently about $4.3 million, or about 90 percent of the total room tax in Douglas County.
“We would like to see 100 percent of that to go back to the lake for promotion,” said Harvey Whittemore, the TCC’s legislative advocate. “Our number is of course a lot higher than Douglas County’s number right now, and that’s what we’re negotiating.”
The move is part of a new direction the TCC’s advocates are taking to resolve the problems that fueled the Tahoe County movement – piece-meal legislation that could also include an autonomous school district and possible consolidation of some General Improvement Districts to improve service levels.
Last week at a hearing of the Select Committee on Tahoe County, legislators made it clear that a new county was most likely not going to happen, but that both sides should negotiate a compromise.
“It was originally a stock deal and now it’s an asset deal,” Whittemore said. “In the negotiations we will see how far we can take it.”
If created, revenue going to a Douglas County Convention and Visitor’s Authority would essentially replace the money currently pledged to the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority – a bistate marketing agency already in place. Whittemore said LTVA members are supportive of the TCC’s concept.
The primary benefit of a state-created authority, according to Whittemore, would be that the percentage of Douglas County room tax going back into promotion would be set by statute – something that cannot be changed by a future Board of Commissioners, particularly one that may not include a Lake Tahoe representative.
Because both sides appear to agree in concept with a visitor’s authority, setting the percentage of room tax to fund it will be the most difficult aspect of the negotiations.
Joe Guild, a lobbyist hired by Douglas County, said there is no way 100 percent of Douglas County’s room tax revenues will ever go to the lake.
“About 41 percent of the TOT for the entire county is going to the lake this next budget cycle,” he said. “We’re not going to break Douglas County to fund 100 percent of the lake’s promotion budget. If we phase it in, it could get close to 50 percent in fiscal year ’98.”
Guild said one way to do that is to increase the Transient Occupancy Tax rate by one percent, generating an instant $678,000 without putting the burden on county taxpayers – a portion of whose services are subsidized by TOT revenue.
He said that would bring Douglas County’s rate to 8 percent – still 2 cents fewer than the city of South Lake Tahoe’s rate.
Whether South Shore residents and businesses will go for that has yet to be seen.
However, Guild and Whittemore said they are confident the two sides can work something out.
“All negotiations have stages where positions harden and then they soften again,” Guild said. “I think we’re between those two points right now.”
Assemblyman Pete Ernaut, R-Reno, said he is supportive of creating a visitor’s authority by statute, because it solves a specific problem lake residents have without taking the drastic step of forming an 18th county.
“We know there’s not going to be a Tahoe County, but all the issues that drive it need to be remedied,” Ernaut said. “This is all part of the negotiated settlement.”
The bill, which was approved in concept by the Assembly Government Affairs Committee Monday morning, is expected to be introduced by committee in the coming weeks.
In addition, Ernaut said by the end of this week he will have a bill that would create a separate school district on the Nevada side of the lake – the primary goal of the North Shore TCC members.
The details of the legislation will be worked out to ensure it would be consistent with the Nevada Plan, revenue-neutral to the other 17 school districts in the state, he said.
If legislators are not supportive of that concept, Whittemore assured there are other options to solve the lake’s gripes about their schools. For example, a bill making its way through the legislature would allow the creation of charter schools – giving communities more local control over education.
Don Forrester, Douglas County School Board member, said the school district continues to oppose splitting the lake and the valley into separate districts, because valley schools would suffer as a result.
“We are responsive to the needs of lake schools – there is no reason to split,” he said.
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