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Tahoe may not pay county road tax

Greg Risling

Some Lake Tahoe residents may be spared from a countywide half-cent sales tax initiative aimed at improving roads in El Dorado County.

The county’s Board of Supervisors, in a 4-1 vote on Tuesday, directed staff to pursue a West Slope-only sales tax. If a November ballot measure is approved, the money would be used for road improvements from Placerville to Echo Summit.

Tahoe representatives recently indicated to the county’s Department of Transportation that they are considering a basinwide sales tax measure for future transit projects. The likelihood of the Tahoe community approving two sales tax initiatives is remote, according to local officials.

South Lake Tahoe City Manager Kerry Miller said he would like to see Tahoe exempt from the countywide tax.

“We don’t oppose the county’s efforts to raise money for road maintenance,” he said. “We just want to reserve the revenue-generated capacity to deal with our transportation goals.”

The talked-about Tahoe transit tax is only conceptual but would provide the required match of local jurisdictions for transportation projects. Local agencies usually find that locating matching dollars to state and federal funding is a burdensome task.

“The sales tax is one of the avenues we would like to pursue,” said Richard Hill, executive director of the Tahoe Transportation District. “We are pleased that the El Dorado Board of Supervisors is sensitive to transit in the basin and won’t compete with the district for a regional tax.”

The most adversely affected population may be the residents in the unincorporated areas of the Tahoe Basin. They not only would be subjected to a possible Tahoe transportation tax but since county-maintained roads wouldn’t be covered by the West Slope tax proposal, alternate funds would have to be found. Michael Stoltz, director of the county’s DOT, suggested a parcel fee increase to maintain and enhance snow removal operations and roads. Residents in Meyers pay a $20 parcel fee but under Stoltz’s proposal that fee would be lifted to $100.

“We would perfer the countywide sales tax because everyone could share,” said Sue Yang, chairman of the Meyers Roundtable. The organization will learn more about the proposal at its Jan. 21 meeting. “If they raise our parcel fees we will once again pay for maintenance on roads that everyone uses.”

Stoltz said it’s imperative to put the half-cent tax on November’s ballot because the county expects a $1.5 million reduction in the road maintenance program next fiscal year.

Without Tahoe’s participation, Stoltz stated there would be approximately $13.4 million less in anticipated revenue over a 10-year period for the county. After examining the potential impact, some supervisors had some choice words for Tahoe residents.

“Tahoe is becoming isolationist,” said Walt Shultz, District 4 supervisor. “Their drive and direction is to pull away from what we are trying to do.”

Fellow supervisor Sam Bradley also chimed in.

“To me this is all for one, one for all,” he said. “If DOT is successful (for the West Slope-only tax measure) this could be thrown back in their face.”

Harsh weather conditions reduce the lifespan of roads at Lake Tahoe but Tahoe representatives are putting their weight behind transportation projects as evidenced by the Presidential Summit last summer.

Transportation was identified as a prominent concern in the basin. Without roads, however, vehicles won’t be moving far.

“Our focus is to create a good transit system to move people around by other ways besides automobiles,” said John Upton, Tahoe’s representative on the county board. “The way to make it go is through a sales tax for transit.”

The county will have to approach the governor and state legislators to establish geographical boundaries if they don’t pursue a countywide tax. A bill would have to be entered by the end of January if county officials want to proceed.


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