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Pismo Beach voters to decide visitor tax increase

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Pismo Beach

Come November, Pismo Beach residents will weigh in on a proposed visitor tax hike aimed at funding improvements for the city’s fire and police departments, as well as tourism-related services.

If approved by voters, Measure B-20 would increase the tax on visitors by 1%, which Pismo Beach management services director Jorge Garcia said would generate an extra $1 million for the general fund each year.

“Visitors come to our community, and we appreciate them coming to our community and visiting,” Garcia said. “But there are additional calls for service, there is additional wear and tear on our infrastructure, whether that’s our roads or our sidewalks...that does come with a certain price.”

A portion of the proposed new revenue would be used to improve the city’s police and fire departments. Garcia said the fire department in particular was initially built for volunteer firefighters, so it doesn’t have sleeping quarters. Instead, firefighters sleep in a modular home a few buildings away.

“The firefighters have to walk about a minute, a minute-and-a-half from their sleeping quarters to the fire station,” Garcia said. “So that does add additional time for response. For medical aids, or the potential for structure or wildfire, seconds or minutes is really valuable.”

Garcia said the city has also outgrown its police building. Despite nationwide calls for funding cuts from police departments, Pismo Beach is looking to increase funding to the department by improving the facility.

“In the past, we’ve looked at plans that would expand the are—with the amount of equipment and evidence that needs to be stored—as well as operating space,” Garcia said.

Mayor Pro Tem Erik Howell noted at the June 2 city council meeting the visitor tax would also be a good back-up fund for the potential unforeseen economic impacts the pandemic may bring.

“We are in a huge freefall in the economy,” Howell said. “We don’t know what our revenues are going to be. We don’t know what our budget is going to be. I think it’s important everyone recognizes this might be a measure that we are going to need to even balance the budget.”

The full text of the Pismo Beach Public Safety and Community Services Protection Measure is “To maintain police and firefighter service levels; reduce 911 emergency response times; protect local groundwater and beaches; and enhance senior programming and other essential services, shall the hotel/visitor tax be increased by 1%, paid by visitors, generating approximately $1 million annually, until ended by voters, requiring annual audits and local control of funds?” The visitor tax in Pismo Beach hasn’t changed from 10 percent since 1991, and Garcia said while a tax increase can be a concern for local hotels, motels and vacation rentals, the city will continue to work with the lodging industry to make sure tourism isn’t drastically impacted.

“Those dollars will stay local if approved, it’s not paid for by residents or businesses,” Garcia said. “There will be a benefit if approved.”

If approved by a majority of Pismo Beach voters, Measure B-20 will go into effect in January 2021.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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