T-D Chamber looks at basin-user fee | TahoeDailyTribune.com

T-D Chamber looks at basin-user fee

The Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors hopes to lay a ghost to rest.

The board voted Tuesday to support closer scrutiny of three of the 20 items from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Alternative Revenue Source Study Phase 1. Phase 2 will focus scrutiny on a short list of potential sources of dollars for environmental improvements. It will examine feasibility, administrative costs, plus impact on the environment, the community and tourism.

One of the revenue sources the chamber would like to examine is the basin user fee. It’s not because they like it.

The basin user fee tends to raise the hackles of many basin residents whenever it appears in discussion.

“It’s a specter that raises its head periodically,” said board member Bill Chernock, director of marketing for Zephyr Cove Resorts.

“I don’t think any of us are particularly friendly about (the basin user fee), but it could potentially come back up,” said board President Skip Sayre, director of marketing for Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. “We should endorse taking a look at it – what its impact to guests would be, its administrative costs – before it comes back to haunt us without our knowing it.”

Proposed revenue sources that the board considered preferable as well as in need of additional study were a fee of $1 per vehicle and a penny per gallon gas tax, both to be imposed in 13 Northern California and three Northern Nevada counties. Over a 10 year period, the vehicle fee has the potential of raising $68 million, the gas tax $417 million. Administrative costs are expected to be low.

“We can look at a whole bunch of little things, hugely annoying and administratively costly, or settle on a few,” Chernock said. “Those two together would exceed what our local match could be.”

The same fees could also be applied in other environmentally sensitive areas such as Yosemite, Monterey and the Sacramento Delta, Chernock said.

Following the release of the Phase 1 study, members of the various chambers and visitors around the lake asked the TRPA to narrow the scope of the Phase 2 study with community input from meetings and public forums. Fewer items to look at would lessen the dollar amount required for the study as well as focus on the most palatable revenue sources on the list.

The basin user fee may not be among the most palatable concepts, but it is among the most persistent.

The concept of a basin user fee, a charge for vehicles as they enter the basin, was last studied about 17 years ago. It is periodically raised in discussions as a way to pay for environmental improvements and to encourage visitors to take alternative transportation.

The subject most recently reappeared during the 1997 Presidential Forum as a local way to raise revenue to match the dollars promised by the federal and state governments.

Business owners dependent on tourism have expressed fears a basin user fee would chase away visitors. Others consider the idea of setting up and maintaining something like a toll booth at every entrance to the basin impractical and more costly than its worth.

“I don’t want it reported at all that we’re in favor of a basin user fee,” Chernock said, asking for the study.

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