Promoting Big Blue: Opinions split on Business Improvement District fees
Forget blue state, red state – that was the presidential election.
Demonstrating deep philosophical differences affecting the future of this town, Tuesday night’s South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting showed opinion evenly split among business owners on how or whether to spend money on marketing the lake through the formation of a Business Improvement District.
No action was taken by the council Tuesday night, but the dialogue went a long way in gaining a greater understanding of a community at a crossroads.
The council heard public comment on the proposal that would impose a fee on businesses ranging from about $30 to $3,000 annually. The money is intended to restore funds taken away by the city through tough budget cuts.
Acting as a conduit for the proposal, the city appointed members of a Tourism Promotion Advisory Committee to manage the BID. But each business has a say, varying by gross annual revenues.
Through state law, businesses – numbering more than 4,200 in town – are asked to submit their opposition to the city by Jan. 4. Upon which time, the votes will be tallied by the council in determining whether the business community will proceed or abandon the idea.
Questions, concerns and disagreements abounded among the civil crowd that packed the standing-room-only chambers.
The issues were not all black and white. As with most things in life, there were gray areas.
Paul Bruso, who owns Ernie’s Coffee Shop, reaffirmed his belief in marketing, but he took issue with the hiring of another consultant “to tell us what to do,” instead of trusting the people in the community to determine those decisions. A city consultant was paid $10,000 to take on the task.
Many in favor of the BID cautioned of dire consequences in pulling back marketing in competitive tourism times.
Patrick Kaler, the LTVA’s new executive director, ensured an apprehensive segment of the small business community complaining about a fragmented voting formula and uneven playing field that the basin’s largest tourism agency will continue to honor equal representation and help market the entire region.
“We need to stay competitive,” he said.
This may prove to be too close to home for the Moss family.
Al Moss, who owns Al’s Chevron on Ski Run Boulevard, came out against the BID, while his son, Casey, serves on the tourism committee.
“My problem is, this community is driving business out of town to Carson City,” the gas station operator said, objecting to a higher “cost of doing business here.”
But it’s the cohesive synergy of promoting a tourism town – one in many studies supported by 80 percent of the visitor dollar – that keeps the everyday family going here, Missy Springer pointed out.
Springer, who works for Camp Richardson Resort and serves on the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association, argued the trickle-down effect that marketing to bring visitors into town supports employees who, say, buy gas at the stations and pay rent in the apartment buildings. Norma Arnold, who owns an apartment complex, said businesses are being railroaded into the BID.
Mayor Tom Davis wrapped up the council comments after a nearly three hour meeting with a warning that “doing nothing is not option.”
While making the case that “theres no fair tax,” Davis reiterated Nancy Marzocco’s belief the citizens’ objection to the process may have reflected a poor job in education – or even marketing.