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Sonoma County Gazette

Supervisors Approve Winter Homeless Shelters, Update County's Temporary Rental Tax

Nov 13, 2018
by Will Carruthers


The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved two contracts for winter homeless shelters and discussed updates to the county's tax structure for temporary rental properties in the county at its Tuesday, Nov. 13 meeting.

Temporary Shelters Approved

The supervisors approved two contracts allowing local nonprofits to operate homeless shelters for the some of the approximately 3,000 homeless residents living in the county between November and March.

Under the first contract, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will open the Santa Rosa Armory as a temporary overnight shelter between November 19 and March 3.

Santa Rosa City Council Member and St. Vincent de Paul Executive Director Jack Tibbetts told the supervisors that staff had asked neighbors about the plan but heard few concerns.

Last year, the Armory offered services to up to 80 people a night, according to a staff report. 

Santa Rosa Armory floor plan

The second shelter, located at the Guerneville Veterans Memorial Building, will be operated by West County Community Services between December 1 and March 1, according to the contract. 

The Memorial Building has been used as a shelter since 2010. The building will be open from 5pm and 7am. Last year, the building offered 57 beds to shelter homeless people, 70 percent of whom came from the lower Russian River area.

The county will pay $27,000 to operate the Guerneville Veterans Memorial Building. St. Vincent de Paul will pay the operating fees to open the Santa Rosa Armory.

Transient Occupancy Tax Changes Discussed

The supervisors considered possible changes to the ways the county spends revenue generated from its Transient Occupancy Tax, which is levied on hotel rooms and other short-term rental properties.

Jennifer Larocque, a county staffer, presented four options to change the spending framework but the supervisors did not make a decision, citing the need for more need for study and discussion.

The rate is 12 percent in the unincorporated county, after voters approved Measure L in 2016, authorizing a three percent increase to the tax – from nine to twelve percent. In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the county collected $22,237,151 in TOT funds.

Under the current system, two-thirds of the original nine percent tax are dedicated to funding Sonoma County Tourism, grants for nonprofits and a range of other county programs. The remaining third of the nine percent tax is added to the County's general fund.

Revenues generated by the Measure L tax increase are to be spent on roads, parks, fire services and affordable housing in the unincorporated county. 

The four options presented by staff vary the amount of TOT money earmarked for the districts each year, the revenue allocated towards the general fund and whether or not to continue funding nonprofit grants.

West County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins

Residents from the West County, where a large portion of the TOT funds are generated, came out in large numbers to voice their interests in the changes. 

"Although we generate a huge portion of the TOT taxes, we have for years not received anywhere near an equitable portion," West County resident Wayne Skala said.

Skala's group, Friends and Residents of Guerneville (FROG), requested additional funding for disaster alert systems, a new ambulance and sidewalk repairs in downtown Guerneville. 

Supervisor David Rabbitt cautioned against "going down the slippery slope" of attempting to completely redistribute the TOT funds to pay for projects in the regions where they came from. Following this logic, the county would have to also evenly redistribute property tax revenues. 

TOT funds comprise about five percent of the county's budget, according to Rabbitt. 

The supervisors ultimately failed to reach a consensus and no immediate direction was given to staff.

You can view the meeting agenda here


Nov 17, 2018
Supervisor Rabbit comment about TOT distribution says a lot about his outlook on the west county. Dear Rabbit: it is not a "slippery slope" to reconsider tax revenue distribution policies at the county level - in fact that is exactly the kind of consideration you are paid so well to do on our behalf. Perhaps we should reconsider Rabbit. Thanks to the Gazette and the author for keeping us in the loop.
- Beef Mcwin

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