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California City Tables Decision to Tax RV Park

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Whether Durango RV Resort will pay transient occupancy tax (TOT) to Red Bluff, Calif., is still undecided after the City Council voted Tuesday (July 19) to table a decision to amend the TOT ordinance to explicitly include recreational vehicle parks and campgrounds.

According to the Red Bluff Daily News, the council voted 3-1-1 to table the decision as recommended by Councilman Rob Schmid. Councilwoman Daniele Jackson voted no, and councilman Wayne Brown was absent.

Durango owner Gary Breen questioned the council’s legal ability to approve the amendment, which would change and expand the existing tax base.

Proposition 218, passed by California voters in 1996, requires local governments to allow those who would be affected to vote on proposed taxes.

The law does not apply in this case, as this is not a new tax, City Attorney Richard Crabtree said. The city has never wavered on its position that the ordinance already includes RV parks and campgrounds.

“We don’t view this as an expansion of the tax base, so Prop 218 does not prohibit adoption of the ordinance before you,” Crabtree told the council.

Schmid stopped short of giving his own interpretation as to whether the ordinance already includes RVs, but said if the city is looking at rewriting the ordinance to clarify it, then it means the ordinance is open to interpretation and subjected to becoming matter for litigation. He wanted a second opinion on whether approval of the amendment would conflict with the law under Proposition 218.

The Red Bluff-Tehama County Chamber of Commerce supports the proposed amendment because it would create an ordinance that would leave no doubt, supposition or room for interpretation as to whether RV parks and campgrounds are covered in the TOT ordinance, said Chairman Greg Stevens, who spoke on behalf of the Chamber Executive Committee.

However, the chamber does not agree with the city’s interpretation that RV parks and campgrounds are already included in the ordinance as it is written, nor does it support the city wanting to collect retroactive taxes from Durango, especially considering that some hotels were forgiven following a 2009 audit that showed they had not been in compliance with the ordinance but promised to comply going forward, Stevens said.

“It’s not Durango’s fault it took the city a year to change the ordinance,” he said.

A handful of speakers representing downtown businesses and Durango employees and guests spoke on behalf of the RV park pointing out the many benefits and contributions it has provided to the city and community. They cautioned the city about the message it was sending in trying to single out Durango.

“It’s sad that the city would go after the best thing that’s happen to Red Bluff in a long time,” said Irene Fuller.

The dispute between the city and Durango over TOT has been ongoing since Durango opened in 2008. There have been ongoing efforts since 2009 to get Durango to voluntarily comply, Crabtree said.

The city estimates Durango owes about $42,000 in TOT going back to June 2010.

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