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Council approves putting hotel tax increase on November ballot
hotel tax
Currently, the City of Turlock’s transient occupancy tax (or hotel tax) is set at 9 percent. In November, voters will decide on a nebulous rate of “not to exceed 14 percent." (SHARON HOFFMAN/The Journal).

Turlock voters will consider raising a tax on hotel stays this November, but they won’t be asked about a cannabis tax.

The Turlock City Council voted on Tuesday to put an increased transient occupancy tax on the ballot, but not a cannabis tax.

Currently, the TOT is set at 9 percent and voters will decide on a nebulous rate of “not to exceed 14 percent.” That language gives the council — and future councils — the ability to increase or decrease the rate by resolution and not by a ballot measure. Increasing the rate higher than 14 percent would once again require voter approval.

The TOT was last addressed in November 1991, when the rate was increased from 5 to 9 percent, according to a city report.

Tuesday’s 4-1 vote — Mayor Amy Bublak voted against — authorizes city staff to make all the necessary preparations and request the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors allow the county registrar of voters to put the proposed tax increase on the ballot.

“As mayor, I do not support additional taxes for our city because I believe in encouraging economic growth and the efficient use of existing resources,” said Bublak. “ By fostering a favorable environment for businesses and ensuring that current revenues are managed wisely, we can achieve our goals without imposing further financial burdens on our residents.”

The city estimates the it could see an additional $1.1 million in increased annual revenue.

“We meet quarterly with the hoteliers — we call it the Hotel Council Meeting — and they have not been opposed to this being raised to 14 percent,” said Anthony Sims, the city’s economic development director. “We’ve communicated this to them. There’s no opposition.”

Darshan Bhatt, manager of the Travelodge by Wyndham, 201 W. Greenwood Ave., disputed Sims’ assertion.

“Nobody has been in contact with us, to be honest,” said Bhatt. “And raising the TOT would make it harder and harder for us.”

Darren Phillips, GM of the Days Inn by Wyndham, 195 N. Tully Rd., said he has been part of regular meetings with the city.

“We used to meet monthly and now it’s quarterly,” said Phillips. “We’ve discussed (the TOT) at previous meetings. It was even mentioned by the mayor that there was some kind of clause that if it ended up hurting us, it could be lowered. I honestly don’t see it being a big issue.”

Messages to five other Turlock hotels went unreturned, while a sixth hotel declined to comment.

Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, the council voted 3-2 against putting a cannabis tax proposal on the ballot.

Turlock’s cannabis program, established in 2019 as a five-year pilot program with four retail licenses, required dispensaries to enter into development agreements with the city. Under the DAs, stores are required to pay a monthly benefit fee of 5.25 percent of gross receipts or $45,000, whichever is greater.

To date, cannabis sales have generated nearly $5 million in revenue for the city. Firehouse, Perfect Union, Natural Healing Center, and the yet-to-open Evergreen Market hold the city’s four cannabis retail licenses.

The council voted in May to accept the recommendations of the ad hoc cannabis committee — councilmembers Cassandra Abram (chair) and Kevin Bixel were members — to end the pilot-program status and put a proposed tax on the ballot.

Abram and Bixel voted in favor of the ballot initiative Tuesday, while Bublak, Pam Franco and Rebecka Monez voted against it.