Voters will be asked this fall whether to approve a slight increase on taxes paid by visitors who stay in hotels in unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County.
The county Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday, with Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting, to put a ballot item before voters that would ask them to increase the transient occupancy tax from its current 10 percent to 12.5 percent, a move that would bring more money into county coffers for general use.
Hotels in the county's unincorporated area currently pay 10 percent in bed tax, while the cities of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Goleta, Solvang and Buellton pay 12 percent.
The ballot measure would be countywide on the Nov. 4 ballot but would apply only to hotels located within the unincorporated areas of the county and would go to the county's general fund.
If approved, the county would bring in almost $8 million next year, as the tax would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015. That's an increase of more than $1 million without the increase, staff said.
The county supervisors were asked to approve a TOT increase to 12 percent or 12.5 percent, and ultimately chose the higher number.
Several public speakers came out to support the item Tuesday, including Kathy Janega-Dykes, executive director of Visit Santa Barbara. She said the group supported an increase to 12 percent, but also encouraged the county to invest in the tourism industry over the long-term.
Mary Harris of the group Visit Santa Ynez Valley, which represents 33 hotels, said the cities of Solvang and Buellton raised TOT years ago, and they've seen no problem in visits, she said.
The TOT in unincorporated area would create a "level playing field" among all hotels in the valley, she said.
Joe Armendariz of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association also said the group supported the move.
Supervisor Adam said he couldn't support the vote without designating where the money would go. Without that, "the money gets thrown in the black hole of the general fund," he said.
"What will make a huge difference is making a commitment to spend the money on economic development," he said. "If it was up to me I would propose a special tax and make a commitment with the money."
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said TOT in the county's unincorporated area was last changed in 1990.
"I don't really want to get into a special tax," Lavagnino said, adding that the two-thirds threshold is hard to overcome.