The amount of relevant new state legislation impacting the RV park and campground sector has virtually exploded over the past year, according to Jeff Sims, director of state relations and program advocacy for the Centennial, Colo.-based National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC).
While ARVC hires its own lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and a few state trade groups have their own legislative advocates, Sims focuses on bills that might represent either a boon or bust for park operators throughout the U.S. And he says the number of bills affecting the park sector grew from 637 in January of 2012 to 2,004 this past January — nearly a 300% increase.
“We’re able to monitor this activity on a daily basis, and then when we notice certain issues that will impact the industry – whether it be a small business issue or something that’s specifically related to campgrounds – we identify those things and report on them to keep people informed at the state level,” said Sims, who spoke with RVBUSINESS.com during the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners’ (WACO) 2013 Convention & Trade Show, Mar. 20-24 in Stevens Point. “If it’s an actionable item, we try to assist in creating the action that’s necessary to impact that bill either positively or negatively.
“And these numbers show the bulls-eye that’s on the backs of small businesses right at the moment,” said Sims, a former Missouri campground operator and ex-ARVC chairman. “Local and state governments are trying to fund budgets and we’re seeing transient occupancy taxes and all kinds of tax issues – some of them on a county basis, some on a state basis – that are trying, for instance, to identify what a park trailer is for tax purposes. So, it’s our job to stay abreast of those issues.”
Naturally, he pointed out, some of these bills are really “off the wall,” like a South Dakota initiative that surfaced in late January aimed at “pharmacy audit integrity” that actually had embedded rules addressing RV park and campground advertising, reservations and campsite deposit requirements as well as refund policies.
“Now what has that got to do with pharmacy integrity?” asked Sims. “Absolutely nothing. I don’t know what the circumstances were behind that, but I notified the South Dakota Campground Owners Association immediately, which got with the appropriate senator and got the bill pulled.”
Aside from tax issues – especially additional transient occupancy taxes – Sims is also seeing plenty of proposed new regulations dealing with storage facilities, length of stay and evictions as 3,000-member ARVC tries to keep member parks out of landlord-tenant relationships altogether.
Park trailers, of course, are often in the lawmaking cross-hairs.
“I think that’s here to stay,” adds Sims. “I think that as long as budgets are slim and municipalities and local governments are going to be looking for new ways to generate revenue they’ll be constantly looking at park trailers and saying, ‘oh, that’s not an RV.’ Now you and I both know what a definition of an RV is. It falls in that category. It’s licensed just like a vehicle. It’s treated like personal property. It’s not meant to enhance the property value of the park. So, we’re seeing them try to tax park trailers as real property, and it’s a problem for a park owner.”
At the same time, Sims was working recently with Wade Elliott, president of Preston, Wash.-based Utility Supply Group, and Bruce Hopkins, vice president of education and standards for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), on an issue regarding electric pedestals that would have considered them separate structures requiring double ground rods and significant added cost.
“It was way overkill and a huge cost thing,” says Sims, who sold his 233-site Branson-area park in June of 2007. “But the average park owner may not ever know about it because it didn’t come to fruition.”