Tahoe County. Part 3: Would Tahoe County Survive?
The future – a vast sea of possibilities, challenges and unknowns. When it comes to the future of the proposed Tahoe County, projections are as subjective as one would expect them to be.
Tahoe Citizens Committee Chairman Michael Jabara says a new county within the Lake Tahoe Basin would result in the revitalization of the tourism economy, creating a very healthy and successful local government.
“Without the growth component, the cost of financing county and school government declines dramatically,” Jabara said. “I think the new county would focus on turning the tourism business around.”
But Dan Holler, Douglas County manager, warns that a one-industry economy in an area that has little or no population growth potential is destined for disaster after a few years of operation.
“In the short term, I think you could make the new county work, and Douglas County would face some very significant problems,” Holler said. “In the long term, I think you would see the reverse – Douglas County would come out healthy and the lake would be set up for failure.”
Frederick Green, president of the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce, Tahoe business owner and valley resident, has a different opinion.
From his perspective, being directly involved with both sides of Douglas County, the long term would prove to benefit the two entities.
“The transition period will be horrible, but I honestly think that 10 years down the road, a split would be better for the lake county and better for the valley,” Green said. “I live in the valley and I really want (the breakaway) to happen. I say give me the consequences and let’s solve the real problems.”
Green characterized what’s happening with Douglas County’s room tax fund – using it to pay for social services instead of promotion – as “milking the cash cow without giving it more hay.”
He said he believes once lake residents have the local control needed to put more money toward tourism, the economy will respond accordingly.
Jabara said this revitalization will happen through three avenues:
— Promotion – The new county expects to dedicate more money over a long period of time to promote tourism at Lake Tahoe. Under Douglas County, about 28 percent of the room tax fund is used for this purpose. Tahoe County proposes a 50-percent dedication immediately, with the goal of bringing that closer and closer to 100 percent, Jabara said.
— Redevelopment – Tahoe County will have a significant drive for redeveloping the Nevada side of the South Shore, working with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the private sector.
— Partnership with the city of South Lake Tahoe – Jabara envisions a more effective working relationship with the California side of the South Shore than is practiced by Douglas County.
“We are both in the same boat, whereas Douglas County and South Lake Tahoe are like apples and oranges,” he said. “We could identify what issues are important to the lake and the area as a whole.”
Still, Holler continues to paint a doom and gloom picture for Tahoe County’s financial future.
According to the TCC’s proposal, the lake would continue to receive the same sales tax revenue – based on property values – that it currently gets from the state, along with an increase for inflation.
But rising costs in personnel and operating expenses within the new county could easily exceed the inflation adjustment in any given year, Holler said.
“If your assessed valuation doesn’t grow at the same rate as your expenditures, the question is, how do you pay for government?” he said. “If you can’t grow, what happens to you?”
Because state distribution formulas are based on growth, if Tahoe stayed with Douglas County, money generated from growth in the valley would eventually make up for Tahoe’s inevitable loss of state revenue, he said.
“They claim they don’t want to pay for growth in the valley, but growth in the valley is what is paying for sales tax revenue up the hill,” Holler said.
But the attitude of a majority of Lake Tahoe residents is that they are willing to take their chances, rather than maintain the status quo.
“There are a lot of unknowns, but at this point, I think lake residents are saying ‘so what,'” Green said. “Let’s face the unknowns and deal with it as it comes along. It couldn’t be any worse than it is now.”
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Tickets are available for the Kiwanis Club of Tahoe Sierra’s 20th anniversary celebration raffle this week.