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Community groups vie for hotel tax money
Ceres city seal

Nine community groups in Ceres made their pitch at Monday’s City Council meeting for a share of the tax revenue paid by those who rent a room at Ceres’ two motels.

The City Council decided to use $40,000 in revenue from the recently-increased Transient & Occupancy Tax (TOT) on programs or events intended to generate visits to Ceres to help spur the local economy. The idea led to the creation of a special Community Activities Grant program which will allocate up to $5,000 to groups who want to organize events which will bring in outside visitors. The application period ran from Aug. 26 to Sept. 27.

A total of nine groups are asking the city for $5,000 grants. They are:

• Ceres Youth Soccer Organization, which wants to put on recreational and competitive leagues;

• Ceres Earthquakes FC, which is planning to put on a two-day Fiesta Super Copa tournament;

• Whitmore Mansion Foundation, which wants to put on a wedding event for Valentine’s Day;

• Ceres Street Faire Committee, which wants to better promote attendance at the 2020 event;

• CSU Stanislaus, seeking money to underwrite a Kim Duyst Invitational for cross country;

• Diamond Bar Arena located south of Ceres, for the California State Horsemen State Champion Drill Team competition and the Sherry Cervi Youth Barrel Racing Championships;

• Junior Golf Association of Northern California for a Shoot Out event at River Oaks Golf Course;

• Ceres Chamber of Commerce which wants to organize the return of the Ceres Bands, Brews & BBQ Throwdown in 2020.

The council listened to the pitches and will award money based on a scoring system that will be open for public review. Recipients will be awarded at the Oct. 28 council meeting.

Randy Cerny of Ceres Youth Soccer said his group wants to replace worn-out goals for the 1,000 youth players.  “That in turn is going to bring additional people to the city,” said Cerny. “We have the ability to have tournaments in the city of Ceres.” He said those 1,000 players bring in others who buy gas and eat at Ceres restaurants.

The Ceres Earthquake FC proposes to use the funds, if awarded, to host its first annual competitive soccer tournament at Ceres River Bluff Regional Park in May, August or November of 2020. Twenty to 30 teams would be attracted from all over Northern California that would bring in 500 to 700 spectators, coaches and family members. The group anticipates spending $17,000 on the tournament, said Adam Bolanos, and hopes to get it going each year.

Lisa Mantarro Moore of the Whitmore Mansion Foundation suggested awarding all the groups funds by allocating with a lesser amount like $4,444 or allocating $45,000 to grant $5,000 to each group to avoid pitting them against one another. Her group wants to put on a Wedding Extravaganza on Valentine’s Day using the city clerk to officiate affordable weddings at the mansion with receptions.

Councilman Channce Condit favored Moore’s idea of spreading the $40,000 across the board to all the applicants.

Moore also represented the Ceres Street Faire, saying the group wants to promote the event to bring in more people, possibly through billboards, radio, TV or social media. She said an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 attend the weekend affair, which is always held the first weekend in May. Moore said the committee has not asked the city for any funds and owes its success to a dedicated and of volunteers.

Shane Parson, owner of Diamond Bar Arena, asked funding for two large events. The Sherry Cervi Youth Barrel Racing Championships brings in 400 to 500 entrants and 2,000 to 2,200 people into the community and costs about $40,000. He said the California State Horsemen State Champion Drill Team competition brings in 250 entrants and about 700 spectators.

“We fill your hotels, we come to the restaurants,” commented Parson. 

Renee Ledbetter of the Ceres Chamber, said her idea is to bring back the Ceres Bands, Brews & BBQ Throwdown, last held in 2017. The event features live bands, a beer garden and a sanctioned barbecue competition that has been held at three different venues – the Tuolumne River Lodge in 2014 and 2015, River Oaks Golf Course in 2016 and Whitmore Park in 2017. The event normally is held in August.

Chamber president Herman Bhatti said the event draws in many outsiders as well as locals. A portion of the funds made by holding the event are used for youth scholarships.

River Oaks Golf Course said her events are partnering with Junior Golf Association of Northern California for a two-day Shoot Out event; a cross country night run organized by CSUS for high school and college runners. She said both events draw in people who stay overnight, dine and shop. Expenses include the cost of lighting the entire golf course.

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. 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.

The council appointed an ad hoc committee last year to decide where to best spend the extra revenues.

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno said she wants to see how the council scores the groups’ requests before deciding to fund all of them at $5,000 through a budget amendment, or other options.