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City Council appoints six to oversight panel for TOT revenues

Six persons were appointed on Monday to the city's new ad hoc committee to provide the City Council with input on where new hotel tax revenues should be spent.

Originally it was the council's intent to appoint only three citizens to the council along with councilmembers Linda Ryno and Bret Durossette, and city manager and Finance Department director serving as non-voting members. However, the council decided to appoint all six applicants - Shelia Brandt, Dahlia David, Lisa Mantarro Moore, Shane Parson, Josh Steeley and Ryan Thornberry.

The group's first meeting is set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at the Ceres Community Center.

Ceres has had a tax on the renting of hotel rooms since 1964 but voters doubled it from five to 10 percent with the simple majority passage of Measure E in November 2015. The measure received the support of 927 votes, or 56.63 percent. A total of 710 voters opposed the tax hike although most Ceres residents will not stay in local motels and pay the TOT.

Since its passage the TOT revenues increased from $101,000 to $228,000 for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The tax is collected on the 109 rooms split between the Microtel Inn & Suites and Howard Johnson Inn.

Talk of an ad hoc committee surfaced after Ceres voters approved the measure but the council was not unanimous about forming the TOT Citizens' Advisory Committee. Ballot measure language did not require an oversight panel but Mayor Chris Vierra suggested a citizen panel could make recommendations on where an estimated $100,000 per year from the hotel tax should be spent. Ceres City Manager Toby Wells said the ballot measure was crafted with no promises where the money would be allocated. Had the city designated a specific area to use the money, the city would have needed a two-thirds majority for passage. However, Vierra asserted that many citizens who voted to increase the TOT believed that the new revenue would help promote Ceres to outsiders rather than be spent on public safety.