Whose special interest is it?
Recently I have been very disappointed to hear some of the arguments at the city council meetings in regard to the budget for next year. Naturally all the entities involved are vying for their piece of the pie and as usual, there does not seem to be enough to go around.
What to do? What to do? What to do?
Many decided to tell the city council what to cut so that “my needs are met. And maybe give me a little more. After all, certain departments are more important than all the rest, so let’s do away with all special interests. That will solve this little budget issue, and if our council doesn’t know, then we’ll tell them what those special interests are. Basically they are any funds that don’t support city staff, especially the public safety departments that involve police and fire. Everything outside those departments can be easily cut.”
Now these aren’t the exact words used, but they do reflect the message. I find it interesting that one of those special interests specifically mentioned was the funding of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (LTVA). This “special interest group” is the main group in town that is actually trying to grow the local economy by bringing in tourists. These tourists purchase goods and services creating tax dollars, which make up a large part of the city’s budget. So why do some of the city employees want to cut funding for the one organization that can help stabilize and help grow the tax base by which the city counts on to fund all the city services?
Interesting question isn’t it?
Over the past 10 years the City Council itself has cut the LTVA’s budget by over two-thirds. They did that after telling the Lodging Association and the Chamber of Commerce that they understood the value of marketing our tourism town. The City Council also did that after acknowledging that the original ordinance creating the transient occupancy tax on overnight accommodations was partially set up to always fund marketing efforts for our tourism economy.
Then they discovered a loophole in the wording and decided operations of the city services were more important than the economy of the town itself. So they started to cut those funds. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Lodging Association passed the Tourism Improvement District (TID) to put additional funds into the marketing of our town.
Does that mean the LTVA doesn’t need the city funds? No. They need every dime to convince people to come up to the South Shore and spend money in all of our businesses. Look at a bigger picture. Right now, each one of the mega resorts in Vegas spends more on marketing than our entire town combined. This includes both sides of the state line.
The good news is that some of the current City Council members have actually run their own businesses and really do understand the value of marketing the town. They have had to make the tough decisions with their own businesses. These same council members have stated on many occasions that they will continue to fund the LTVA and even increase the amounts in future years.
So how does the council deal with the city staff that one after another, stands before them and tells of their difficulty protecting and serving with their current salary package?
The real question is, if some city employees want to cut the “special interests,” hurting the economic viability of the town for the purpose of benefiting themselves, who are they protecting and serving?
— Patrick Ronan is president of the board of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.