What’s the Transient Occupancy Tax again?

That’s a common refrain from many Sonoma residents – and not a surprising one. They don’t know it, because they don’t pay it.

But they’re being asked on the Nov. 6 ballot to raise it by 2 percent – from its current 10 percent to 12 percent – and here’s why they should vote yes on Measure S.

The TOT is a tax on overnight stays at Sonoma hotels; it’s paid by tourists. This year, it’s expected to generate nearly $4 million in revenue, equal to about 20 percent of the city’s budget, which goes to the city’s general fund, ostensibly to offset the burden tourists put on city infrastructure, but in reality it’s for whatever City Hall feels is needed to improve Sonoma. Which, of course, helps attract more tourists.

A 2 percent increase would bring in an additional $750,000 to city coffers.

Currently, Sonoma’s hotel taxes are either even with, or 2 percent below, all other cities in Sonoma and Napa counties – save for bullish Rohnert Park, which is 4 percent above! – so it’s unlikely any wine country tourists will complain – or, quite frankly, even notice – a slight uptick on their bill at the Lodge. The lone caveat is large-group stays – think company conferences and corporate retreats – in which a savvy event planner might be swayed to or from Sonoma by a 2 percent difference on a major expenditure. But, again, Sonoma’s TOT wouldn’t be higher than the others, just on par.

Measure S would also give the Sonoma City Council the option to increase the TOT by an additional 1 percent within the next five years, so as not to once again fall behind Napa Valley, which may vote this November to increase its TOT by 1 percent. Measure S would need a simple majority to pass.

No formal opposition to Measure S has risen; not even the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association – tax skeptics if there ever were any – has taken a position opposing it.

The Sonoma hotel community, which ultimately bears the brunt of any perception of high room rates, supports the increase.

“It’s time, and it’s been time for a while,” says Dan Parks, owner of Inn at Sonoma, who estimates the TOT hasn’t been raised in about 15 years.

We think it’s about time, too.

We recommend a “yes” on Measure S.

– Jason Walsh, associate publisher & editor

– Emily Charrier, publisher