Sounding Off: Increasing 'bed tax' could help city

By the time your read this, most registered voters should have received their sample ballots in the mail and have probably given them the old once-over. In Costa Mesa this time around, in addition to a slate of state, City Council, school board and special district candidates to consider, we will have Measure L on the ballot — a proposal to increase the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), otherwise known as the "bed tax." You'll find it at the very back of the sample ballot.

In my opinion, it's critical that all Costa Mesa voters give serious consideration to voting in favor of Measure L. Unless you've been on another planet for the past couple of years you know that Costa Mesa, like most other cities, is in deep financial difficulty. Presently the city staff is trying to figure out how to overcome a more than $9 million shortfall that remains after trimming most of the flesh off our municipal skeleton. The city has drained more than $30 million from its reserves in the past three years to come up with a balanced budget. Much of this is due to the condition of our national economy and the inability of our state legislators to put aside partisan bickering, make tough decisions and pass a budget. Costa Mesa is one of the cities who suffer from the state's incompetence — monies properly due the city have been commandeered by the state to help "fix" its problems.

This brings us back to Measure L. This measure, if passed, would increase the Transient Occupancy Tax in Costa Mesa from 6% (the lowest in Orange County and nearly the lowest in the entire state) to 8% and, based on projections by the proponents, it may generate an additional $1.3 million in annual revenue to the city's general fund. Presently the median TOT in Orange County is 10.25%, so this modest increase will still place Costa Mesa among the lowest in the county and state.

Costa Mesa has not had an increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax since 1974! During that time, as we all know, costs have increased dramatically, the population has doubled and the demand for municipal services has increased. Each time the issue of increasing the TOT was raised in the recent past it was rejected by the City Council. It finally took a financial crisis unlike anything previously seen in our city to get the current council to agree to put this issue before the voters for consideration.

Keep in mind that, unless you personally spend time in Costa Mesa hotels, this tax will not affect you at all. This increase will be charged to guests in our city, those staying in our hotels and other establishments on a temporary basis. There are no downsides to this increase for Costa Mesa residents. It will mean more money in our general fund to pay for critical staff and services.

There is no opposing position in the ballot statement, so last week I went to Ed Fawcett, president of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, to get his view on this tax increase. Ed told me that the chamber completely understands why this modest increase is so essential to the financial well-being of our city and does not oppose it. No members of the Costa Mesa hospitality community — hotel owners and managers who collect it — have spoken against this measure.

After more than 20 years of not even having an opportunity to consider this subject, this is the year the voters of Costa Mesa finally have the chance to make their views known. This is the year that we all should vote "yes" on Measure L.

GEOFF WEST lives in Costa Mesa.

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