Question to both Tony Karwowski and Court Leve (whose response can be found here): Should unspent Transient Occupancy Tax monies be used to fund litter removal or workforce housing and transportation?
People often wonder how the Transient Occupancy Tax collected in our region from overnight visitors is spent, and who benefits from it. With issues that span from the need for more workforce housing, to improving how we get around and how we mitigate the impacts of our tourism-based economy, the feeling that more can be done is certainly a shared sentiment in our community. That’s part of the reason why business owners voted to create the North Lake Tahoe Tourism Business Improvement District, offering local control of some of the funds that are generated here.
Stepping back, it’s important to know that the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association was created to serve as the Destination Marketing Organization responsible for driving tourism and group business to our area. The NLTRA’s original focus was to help North Lake Tahoe communities support stable, year-round business, generating steady work and career opportunities for members of our community. Placer County provided the NLTRA’s $4 million annual operating budget, derived from TOT funds generated in eastern Placer County.
Today there’s a new reality. The Covid-19 pandemic changed everything — from how we think about tourism and what our community needs, to what the NLTRA’s mission should be going forward. When the pandemic started, the NLTRA quickly pivoted from outwardly marketing the destination to educating those who were here or planning to visit about how they could help take care of Tahoe. Those efforts continue today; however, our funding source has changed.
Instead of TOT, the North Lake Tahoe Tourism Business Improvement District now funds the NLTRA’s efforts, with revenues supporting responsible travel and stewardship education, including efforts to offset tourism impacts, bolster a year-round economy, and support local businesses. Funds generated by the district are managed by the resort association with oversight from its volunteer board of directors and corresponding committees made up of representatives from assessed businesses.
The $4 million in annual TOT that previously funded the NLTRA’s efforts has been “freed up” to support more of what our community needs — workforce housing, transportation, and other infrastructure improvements.
In addition, in the last fiscal year (2021/22), some of the TOT funds that previously supported the NLTRA contract with Placer County were unspent. This savings to budget was due primarily to reduced marketing efforts associated with convention and wedding business, international visitation, as well as reduction in the organization’s headcount in the transition from a destination marketing organization to a destination stewardship organization. The unspent funds were returned to Placer County, and subsequently made available to support workforce housing and transportation programs per the contract with Placer County. These TOT funds were recommended by the NLTRA and approved by the county— for programs like TART Connect and Landing Locals.
As part of the NLTRA’s shift in focus to destination stewardship and management, we’re collaborating with businesses and community members about the needs we collectively need to address. The priority that hasn’t changed is the overwhelming need for workforce housing solutions. That’s what the new TOT committee the NLTRA has convened will help address. Its members are focused on identifying and recommending affordable housing, transportation, and infrastructure programs and projects that can be supported immediately with the annual TOT funds that previously funded the NLTRA.
On top of that, TBID revenues also offer the ability to address workforce housing, transportation, and tourism impact mitigations — including trash — so that we can help make an impact beyond the programs Placer County has agreed to support with TOT.
With regard specifically to trash in our town centers, beaches, and other frequented areas, Placer County recently extended its contract with Clean Tahoe, a nonprofit group providing litter removal, trash hauling, and community education services in the Tahoe Basin, for another year. The contract expands trash removal services, particularly during peak periods. In addition, we are meeting with county officials later this month who oversee the Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal contract to evaluate other actions we can invest in to reduce future waste stream impacts in our community.
~ Tony Karwowski is president and CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, and is a 20-plus-year resident of the region.
FaceOff is a forum for the exchange of ideas between two participants on a hot community topic. Each writes a My Shot in response to a question, then is given a chance to respond to the other’s answer. This isn’t Twitter; it’s a platform for thoughtful, well-researched debate between stakeholders on vital local issues.
Both Leve and Karwowski elected not to submit a direct response to the other’s My Shot.