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RV Tax in Pima County rankles visitors and park operators alike

December 15, 1997

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Like other parts of the Southwest, Pima County is a magnet for legions of snowbirds fleeing the ravages of winter.

And while they read about the snow and cold back home, the people who winter here in their recreational vehicles contribute to the local economy through their food, gas, entertainment and hookup fees.

But this winter Pima County is asking for even more of a contribution: a 50 cents-per-night tax on recreational vehicles, intended to help pay for a baseball spring training complex in Tucson.

Like many other snowbirds, Sidney George of Wausau, Wis., is less than thrilled.

``We’re these people’s bread and butter. We spend millions of dollars down here,″ George said. ``And then we come down here and find out that they’ve taxed us.

``As far as I’m concerned, it’s tax without representation,″ the retired mail carrier said.

He isn’t alone in his displeasure. Some RV park owners say the tax is hurting their business, especially because there are lots of other places snowbirds can spend the winter. The Arizona Travel Parks Association has filed a lawsuit challenging the tax.

A number of RV-related magazines have publicized the tax, which RV park owners pass on to snowbirds in the form of higher rates. Word of mouth is spreading the news as well.

``We’ve heard from many, many people who are upset about it,″ said Virginia Bauman, a spokeswoman for the Cincinnati-based Family Motor Coach Association.

Bauman said she’s heard of no other state or local government with such a tax.

Some RV park owners say the tax already is hurting business, while others worry that unhappy tenants won’t return next year.

``RV travelers are mad,″ said Judy Bratton, owner of the Whispering Palms park on Tucson’s northwest side.

Bratton’s mad as well, especially when she talks about her business. Of the park’s 75 weekly and monthly slots, 37 were vacant last week _ far higher than normal for the time of season.

``Somebody’s dipping in my pocketbook, and I don’t like it,″ she said. ``I have no other way to make my living.″

Operators of some larger parks, such as Ike Isaacson’s Voyager RV Resort, said they have not been as affected because a large number of their spaces are dedicated to year-round hookups.

``We’re not going to be affected as much this year because they paid in advance,″ Isaacson said. ``Next year it’s going to kill us. ... We’re going to lose a lot of those people.″

George confirms the fears of Bratton and others; he says he’s going someplace else next year. Meanwhile, Gus Christiansen of Rochester, Minn., said he’s out of here when his one-month space rental ends.

``I’m moving on to Yuma or some other place _ Las Vegas, somewhere,″ Christiansen said.

Pima County’s supervisors enacted the tax this year on RVs parked at commercial locations to help pay for the $35 million Tucson Electric Ballpark and major league baseball spring training complex under construction on the south side. The Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks will use the facility.

The tax, authorized by the Arizona Legislature, was expected to raise $875,000 a year, but Martin Willett, the county’s deputy administrator, said it looks like this year’s take will be closer to $600,000. Maricopa County uses a sales tax to help finance Cactus League operations for its seven major league teams.

Pima County officials insist the tax isn’t an attempt to build the complex without taxing voters.

``Nobody set out to hit an easy target,″ Willett said. ``We’ve got a beer tax, a cigarette tax, a property tax, a transaction business tax, a vehicle license tax; there are lots of taxes. We hit all the uneasy ones too. In fact, long before there was an RV tax, for years there’s been a (hotel) bed tax. That’s a major source of revenue in our state.″

Jack Foster, a winter visitor from Chicago, has a hard time believing that.

``It’s great for the locals because somebody else pays for it,″ Foster said.

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