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Council to again take up ad hoc panel idea for TOT spending
Those who stay at the Microtel Inn (here) as well as Howard Johnson Inn in Ceres pay an extra five percent local tax thanks to passage of Measure E. The council may be poised now to form a citizens advisory panel to recommend where the added funds should be spent. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Two weeks after the Ceres City Council expressed little interest in forming a citizens' advisory committee to recommend where taxes from the recently increased hotel tax will be spent, the matter came up again. On Monday Vice Mayor Mike Kline suggested that since he was absent on Feb. 13 he wanted to bring up debate again. He asked for it to be placed on a future council agenda.

The request seemed to surprise City Manager Toby Wells who had a clear reading that the council was not interested in a citizens' group.

Two weeks ago Mayor Chris Vierra's brought up the idea of citizen advisory panel to make recommendations on where the estimated $100,000 annually from the newly increased hotel tax should be spent. It gained no traction among the majority of the four members present. Vierra said he believes many citizens who voted to increase the Transient and Occupancy Tax (TOT) from five percent to 10 percent in November 2015 felt that the revenue would not be supporting police and fire. Instead he said many supporters had the impression that the extra funds would help Ceres bring in new businesses and visitors.

On Feb. 13 Councilman Bret Durossette said that the TOT is general fund money which can be spent where the council finds need. He said because the city needs to make up for general fund shortages, the TOT can go for needs like police and fire salaries.

Wells noted that the ballot measure contained no promises where the money would go. If the city had designated a specific area to use the money, the city would have needed a two-thirds majority.

Councilwoman Linda Ryno agreed with Wells and Durossette, saying nobody she knows had expectations where the money is to be spent.

Ken Lane, another member of the council, said motel operators expect the city to do more promotion of Ceres to help fill hotel rooms but said that may have to wait until the city catches up revenue shortfalls.

The matter died at that time because the council was split; Ryno and Durossette seeing eye to eye against Lane and Vierra.

Measure E received the support of 927 votes, or 56.63 percent. A large number of voters - 710 - were against the tax. The measure needed a simple majority for passage.

On Monday all on the council but Ryno were in consensus to consider the matter again.

Wells said because the city's plate is full, the item is not likely to come back to the council until late April or early May.