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Oversight panel for new tax ordered

Members of the Ceres City Council on Monday directed staff to form a special Citizens' Advisory Committee to recommend where taxes from the recently increased hotel tax will be spent.

The council did not determine the size of the committee but did appoint two councilmembers - Linda Ryno and Bret Durossette - to serve on it. The matter will come back to solidify the makeup and charge of the panel.

The idea of whether such a committee is necessary was debated in March. Earlier this year, Ceres 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. At first the idea gained no traction among the majority of the four members present. Vierra pushed that 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 had the impression that the extra funds would help Ceres bring in new businesses and visitors.

On Feb. 13 Councilman Bret Durossette said that since the TOT brings in general fund dollars, they are 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.

City Manager Toby Wels Wells said that the ballot measure contained 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.

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

Councilman Ken Lane 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. But when Vice Mayor Mike Kline joined the conversation at a subsequent meeting, he threw his weight in favor of an ad hoc committee.

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.