The New Hampshire state budget leaves few happy campers.
The $11.6 billion plan, which the Legislature may finalize Wednesday, imposes the meals and rooms tax on campsites for the first time. It also increases the tax rate from 8% to 9%.
Campers and campground owners rallied today at the State House against the tax, which was quietly added to the budget last week, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester.
“Nobody comes and makes our bed. We make our own,” said Emily Laplante, a retiree from Jacob Brook Campground in Orford. “Nobody cooks our meals.”
Owners from around the state said the tax extension is unfair and hurts people who cannot afford it.
“You’re not being very transparent by sneaking it in,” said Scott Christophers, owner and operator of Seven Maples, a 125-site campground in Hancock. “We as campground owners do not supply meals or rooms.”
Others question how it will be implemented, and how far-reaching it might be, such as tax applicability to campers at or around New Hampshire Motor Speedway during busy race weekends.
It hurts campers and property owners, who are already suffering from a bad economy and a wet spring, said Jayne Cohen, president of Adventure Bound Camping Resorts, and owner of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in New Hampton.
“It feels almost like the world’s coming to an end, to be honest,” Cohen said. “To me it goes against what New Hampshire’s all about.”
Cohen questions how it would be implemented, given that some campgrounds have no had to collect the tax for the state, and the New Hampshire fiscal year begins July 1. And what about campers who have already paid for sites this summer? “Now what do we do? Are they exempt if they’ve already paid for it?”
Gregg Pitman, executive director of the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association, had a scheduled meeting Sunday with state Revenue Commissioner Kevin A. Clougherty to try to answer some of those questions. One he hears often, if campers have paid, do owners have to eat the tax?
“We’d like to see the Legislature vote this budget down and get back to work on it,” Pitman said.
It would put many campgrounds on a competitive disadvantage, he said. The New Hampshire Campground Owners Association has about 155 public and private members; the association also promotes New Hampshire state parks and state campgrounds.
State campgrounds would be affected by the tax extension, but not federal campgrounds, according to Pitman.
Campgrounds with cabins already collect the meals and rooms tax for the state.
The budget bill defines “hotel” as sleeping accommodations for rent, with the term including cabins, dormitories, lodges, private clubs, cottages, barracks, camps and now campsites.
Pitman said the tax change would especially hurt seasonal campsites, where customers pay anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 for a long-term site.
A new 9% tax would hit these seasonal campers with another $270 in tax, said Dave Mankus, owner of Lake Forest RV Resort in East Wakefield. He owns and manages 130 seasonal sites, many of which are frequented by retirees who have already seen their savings depleted by the economy.
“It could be the last straw,” he said. “These people will just stay home.”
Mankus said he was mystified at the state lawmakers for rushing the tax imposition out without a public hearing or any notification for campground owners.
Members of the Legislature have struggled all year with overcoming a budget deficit for the two-year budget.
Senate President Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, said Friday that the budget is “fiscally responsible, reflecting the very difficult economic times we are in.”
The budget plan will result in the layoff of about 200 state employees, potential furloughs, and cuts in numerous programs. Further changes include closure of the Lakes Region prison, a requirement for retirees under 65 to contribute to their health coverage, and a freeze on travel and equipment purchases.
Christophers, at Seven Maples, said campground owners appreciate the difficulty of state budgeting in this economy. What irks him, he said, is the legislative spin. “They are presenting this budget as ‘no new taxes,’ ” he said. “This is a new tax.”
Former managers and employees of Western Recreational Vehicles Inc. in Union Gap, Wash., have filed suit in federal court for reimbursement of unpaid benefits and damages.
The complaint, filed Tuesday (June 2) in U.S. District Court in Yakima, alleges the company failed to pay accrued vacation and provide the required 60-day notice when it ceased operations in April 2008, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic.
The high-end motorhome manufacturer laid off about 220 workers when it shut down production at its plant in Union Gap.
The lawsuit names 26 former salaried and hourly workers as plaintiffs. In addition to the unpaid vacation, former employees claim Western RV withheld the cost of medical and dental premiums from their paychecks after canceling health coverage without notifying employees.
“As a result, plaintiffs have incurred damages consisting of medical and dental expenses and wages due in an amount to be proven at trial,” the complaint said.
Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), employers are required to provide 60-day notice before shutting down an employment site or one or more facilities that results in job losses for 50 or more employees.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Western Recreational Vehicles and Philip Von Burg, listed as vice president of the firm when the firm closed its doors.
The suit does not specify a damage amount.
Yakima attorney Wade Gano, who is representing the former employees, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Western RV had operated in Yakima since 1971, manufacturing motorhomes, fifth-wheel trailers and campers. The founders of the company, Bill and Suzanne Doyle, sold the company to an equity firm, Monomoy Capital Partners of New York City, in 2006.
The firm was operating in Union Gap when it closed, citing a declining market for its products, some of which carried price tags of $500,000.
Western RV tried unsuccessfully to merge with an Indiana RV manufacturer prior to its closure.
The staff of the California Coastal Commission has recommended that the agency approve permit parking zones in five areas near Venice beach, delighting residents aggravated by the constant presence of recreational vehicles and provoking anger from public access and homeless advocates, according to the Los Angeles Times.
If the so-called overnight parking districts are approved in June, it would mark the end of a 12-year battle by residents, said Mark Ryavec, a Venice activist.
“This is a struggle for residents to be able to secure their neighborhoods and secure parking in their neighborhoods and to stop what too often was a public nuisance,” Ryavec said Tuesday.
Many who live near the beach complain that people living in campers take up precious curb spaces and pose health and safety problems.
In a letter to the commission, Nikoletta Skarlatos said she came home from a hearing in February to find her street filled with campers and their occupants.
“One was dumping raw sewage and urine directly into the storm drain,” she wrote. She said she walked to the back of her house and “saw a pile of human fecal matter against my house wall.”
Steve Clare, executive director of the Venice Community Housing Corp., expressed disappointment in the recommendation. Restricting parking, he said, is part of a “pattern of denial of public access” to the beach overnight.
Other opponents also challenged the proposed restrictions, complaining that they would displace people who now live in campers and cars.
“That is a big issue,” acknowledged City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice.
Rosendahl said he was studying programs in Santa Barbara and Eugene, Ore., that have designated overnight parking lots for RV dwellers where they can also take advantage of social services. Rosendahl said his office has contacted the Obama administration to plead for federal stimulus money for such “wraparound services” for RV occupants staying in designated areas.
Municipal code prohibits overnight sleeping in vehicles on city streets, but police have fought a losing battle to enforce the law, Rosendahl said.
“If the commission votes in favor,” he said, “it becomes the kickoff of an overall process that will take several years before all aspects are met.”
Of the five permit parking zones proposed by residents, two extend to the coastline. In those areas, the staff report said, street parking for individuals without permits would be prohibited from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.
Three public parking lots near the beach would stay open 24 hours a day. Visitors could prepay for four hours of parking. Three other inland areas would restrict parking from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Residents could buy three annual permits for $15 each and two visitor permits, good for four months, for $10 each.
A permit, however, would not guarantee a parking space, said Yadi Hashemi, the acting senior engineer responsible for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s parking permits division. He added that permit prices were expected to remain the same for “the foreseeable future.”