Who’s to pay in Tahoe Basin?
A random survey is under way which is asking 600 residents of Northern California and Northern Nevada what money-raising techniques they might support in order to help restoration efforts at Lake Tahoe.
The six possibilities in the survey, including a gas tax and an entertainment tax, were narrowed from a list of 20 during Phase 1 of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s regional revenue study.
The survey results and the rest of Phase 2 should be ready by spring 2000 and are supposed to give Tahoe officials a better idea of how to raise money for Tahoe’s share of the $900 million Environmental Improvement Program.
The results of the survey should be ready by January along with a legal-constraints analysis, which would show what kind of action it would take to achieve the fund-raising possibilities. A third prong to the Phase 2 study, an economic model, will not be ready until spring.
“The final report will have a number of elements, but there are three main components,” said Pam Drum, spokeswoman for TRPA. “The results of the public survey on the list of possibilities, the economic model and a legal-constraints analysis that would say, ‘This will require a two-thirds vote from the people; this requires approval from the legislature.’ Things like that.
“The legal-constraints analysis and the public opinion survey are something we’re going to want to look at together. Increasing a tax or implementing a new fee will be very, very difficult if you just look at the politics. But if the results of the public opinion survey say the public is willing to pay for improvements at Tahoe, then we as a community can bring that very real information to the attention of the elected officials.”
The EIP identifies capital investments that need to be made over the next decade to meet the agency’s thresholds for water quality, soil conservation, air quality, vegetation, wildlife, fisheries, recreation and scenery.
The EIP divides up the cost of implementation between federal, state and local governments as well as the private sector. While the local governments’ portion of the EIP amounts to $101 million, officials want the regional revenue study under way to identify $200 million in funding, which would not only pay for the local portion but provide for long-term maintenance of the EIP projects.
The list of potential ways to raise the money has been narrowed down to six possibilities: a 1 cent gas tax in 12 Northern California and three Northern Nevada counties, $1 vehicle registration fee in those counties, $2 basin-wide impact fee, .5-percent basin-wide sales tax, 2-percent entertainment tax and a 2-percent transient occupancy tax increase.
The economic model is expected to show what impacts the fees could have on Tahoe’s economy as well as any effects implementing EIP projects could have.
“I think implementing the EIP has a very direct, as well as indirect, positive impact on the tourism economy and the attraction of Lake Tahoe as a destination resort,” Drum said. “The more indirect impacts would be just the values associated with a unique environment that sets Tahoe apart from its competitors. The natural environment is what really sets us apart. The message we can send out is Lake Tahoe is a very special place, and we intend to keep it that way.
“The more indirect impacts of the EIP on tourism are referenced in the list of EIP projects,” she added. “There are a number of projects in here that are in everyone’s best interest.”
At a price of $132,000, a Sacramento-based firm is performing Phase 2 of the study. The California Department of Transportation, at $80,000; Nevada Department of Transportation, $10,000; and TRPA, $20,000, are paying for the bulk of the study. The remaining $22,000 is being covered by 15 other basin organizations, including the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce, League to Save Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County.
Dave Solaro, El Dorado County supervisor, said the public survey portion of the study is important to gauge what the people want.
“We want to have a feel for what the community wants – what they would support, what they wouldn’t support,” Solaro said. “There’s no other way to get the community view.”
Putting any of the money-raising possibilities into place likely will not happen for several years.
“We’re not in a position to be getting new revenue next year or probably the year after that,” Drum said. “What we can do now is send a message to the federal and state governments and the private sector that we intend to hold up our end of the bargain.
“We expect revenue to keep flowing from the federal and state level. We feel a commitment from the local community will help guarantee that.”
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