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News

Putting TOT on March 3 ballot moves city forward

Ojai City Council approval Tuesday to place a ballot measure to increase the transient occupancy tax (TOT) — also known as a hotel bed tax — on the March 3 ballot could be one of the most important and beneficial decisions our city leaders have made in the last 48 years.
Maintenance and improvement of the city’s infrastructure have continued to fall behind, so much so that the Nov. 12 city staff report stated the city will be “faced with cutting resident-focused services” if additional revenues are not secured. City budgets are required, by law, to be balanced, so when the money runs out, services go unfunded.
A TOT is preferable to a regressive general sales tax that would burden residents and discourage local spending. It is also preferable to a property tax that would worsen the housing-affordability issue. A TOT gives the 800,000 people who visit Ojai each year an opportunity to contribute to the maintenance, upkeep, and capital improvements they enjoy in Ojai when they are lodging in our city. 
Ojai’s sales tax is among the very lowest in the state (7.25%) and we want to keep it that way. Our TOT is also the bottom of California cities (10%) — including Oxnard, Bakersfield and Fresno. Santa Barbara, for example, has a 12% TOT, and 1.5% higher sales tax than we impose. The wording of the “bed tax” can now be improved from 1971 and exclude parking, venue rental, greens fees or other services.
The City Council has agreed to promise residents that this 5% increase — above the current 10% TOT — will not go into the General Fund. Rather, it would only be spent on fire safety and resilience, road/sidewalk maintenance, Recreation Department maintenance, and infrastructure projects, such as Libbey Bowl improvement, alternative power for city operations, code enforcement, and dare we dream...a public pool?
A two-thirds vote of the people is required for this 5% TOT increase to pass.
Allotments can, and probably will be, revised and adjusted each year to meet current needs. With earmarked TOT funds, frustrating road conditions will finally start to be fixed. We can harden our community and eliminate wildland fire hazards at a much faster pace.
The community will need to come together to pass this ballot measure. Please make every effort to get informed, understand this issue, understand the needs and benefits of this measure, and vote yes March 3 for a 15% Transient Occupancy Tax.

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