Will the Council keep its word? | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Will the Council keep its word?

Jerry R. Birdwell

We moved here and opened the Black Bear Inn six years ago. My partner, Kevin Chandler, and I put a lot of hard work into our business, and our bed and breakfast was recently named one of the top 10 B&Bs in California.

To do my part for my community, I’ve taken time to get involved in finding solutions to many of our problems – traffic, housing and a lagging economy. Two years ago I assumed on the presidency of the Lodging Association, and my second term ends this month. As president, I’ve seen the inner workings of many of our community problems and have come to realize that everyone who lives in this town is dependent on the tourist dollars – if not directly, then indirectly.

My business, like most here, cannot afford extensive marketing. Only by combining our funds can we market to the world at large, bring tourists to Lake Tahoe and make our economy strong.

What you might not know is that as things stand now, future funds for marketing our city are grossly inadequate.

Over two years ago, our city faced a real crisis. The state stole our tax dollars. They collected our taxes, but rather than return them, they put them toward the state deficit and South Lake Tahoe faced a tremendous shortfall. We stepped up to help develop a plan to help ease the city’s dire fiscal situation. The Measure Z coalition was formed (including seniors, real estate agents, lodging, chamber, police, fire, LTVA, city employees and others). Measure Z included a $1.50 (maximum) tax per room night for lodging, and an increase in the business license fee. All of these funds would go directly to the city. The City Council voted for Measure Z.

Knowing that Measure Z would eventually sunset, we all started to work on Measure Q (sales tax) and the BID (marketing funds). All funds from “Q” go directly to the city, and all funds from the BID are overseen by a board made up of local business people.

We had hoped that the BID would have been in place this past spring but council members wanted Measure Q to pass first because “Z” was going to sunset on October 30, 2006, and they anticipated strong public resistance to a sales tax increase. The council said they would continue to support the formation of the BID once “Q” passed, and we took them at their word.

The agreement was that the city would fund marketing until Measure Q passed and the BID was in place. Once “Q” and the BID are in effect, the city said it would put 50 cents of the $1.50 “Z” tax into the BID fund. Lodging agreed that when “Z “ended, they would continue to collect the $1.50 tax and put it directly into the BID.

However, prior to “Q” passing, a council subcommittee decided on a Friday to cut the marketing monies they had agreed to fund. The next Tuesday, without public notice, the City Council agreed with the subcommittee’s decision, and they voted to cut $753,000 from marketing.

Now South Lake Tahoe has virtually no money to continue a legitimate marketing campaign. To make matters worse, the City Council has recently heard from a small but vocal minority, and they want to delay the vote or back out of the agreement altogether. (By small minority, I mean 1 percent. Counting the written protests received and comparing them to the number of business licenses in the city, only 1 percent of our local businesses have been upset enough to write a complaint.)

The BID is necessary for our town and most business owners recognize that.

Putting off the vote would kill the BID for a whole year. We cannot stop marketing our town for an entire year. It will kill us economically. We have to continue to market South Lake Tahoe in order to stay viable. We need the BID – it’s been part of the overall plan for more than two years.

As a Texas attorney and former Texas District Court Judge, I have always said, “I had rather have the integrity of your handshake and your word than a written contract.” Now, council, don’t go back on your word.

– Jerry R. Birdwell is owner of the Black Bear Inn and past president of the SLT Lodging Association.

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