The proposed charge for monthly base water fees charged to mobile homes and fixed RVs in San Benito, Texas, may discriminate against Winter Texans and may constitute age discrimination, the director of an organization that promotes Texas RV parks said Tuesday (April 3).
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) is reviewing the city’s proposal as it considers legal action, Brian Schaeffer, the agency’s executive director, said.
The city’s utility board has proposed charging a base water fee to mobile homes and permanently tied-down RVs, the Brownsville Herald reported.
“I’m still not sure if they can single out a class of customer and implement a surcharge,” Schaeffer said. “It’s not right that you’re attacking a certain class of citizen with this fee.”
But Pete Claudio, chairman of the city’s utility board, said the proposal isn’t discriminatory because the charge applies to all year-round residents and apartment tenants.
“We’re not targeting Winter Texans,” Claudio said.
Schaeffer said the city’s proposal may constitute age discrimination and unjustly targets RV parks.
“The demographics on snowbirds is (age) 55-plus,” Schaeffer said. “I definitely think it’s discriminatory against those folks.”
A base water fee would unjustly target RV parks, Schaeffer said.
“Mobile home parks can show you books and records that (show) they’re the most conservative water users,” Schaeffer said. “That’s the craziness of this thing.”
Officials here have conducted an inventory of the number of mobile homes and fixed RVs within the city limits, but refused to release that information Tuesday after the Valley Morning Star filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act.
Campgrounds, RV parks and resorts across Texas are anticipating a busy spring break this year, with occupancies at several parks exceeding last year’s figures, according to a news release.
“Many of our parks are reporting strong reservations and a good mix of visitors, ranging from Winter Texans and families to college kids,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), which represents nearly 400 private parks across the Lone Star State.
“If the weather can hold, we are looking for a banner year as we are basically sold out through March 24,” said Don Temple, managing partner of Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Vineyards Campground & Cabins in Grapevine is also anticipating a busy Spring Break period.
“We never have to worry about low occupancy,” said Adrienne Nicodemus, activities director for the park, which has increased its spring break activities offering to include kayak lessons, bird focused crafts and hikes, an environmental stewardship seminar as well as yoga classes for both adults and children. The park is also planning a St. Patrick’s Day bike parade and an outdoor movie night.
Meanwhile, Horizon RV Resorts anticipates strong business levels at several of the parks it manages in Texas, including Hatch RV Park in Corpus Christi.
“Reservations are showing an uptick in the number of guests staying with us during this year’s Spring Break compared to last year,” said Scott Foos, Horizon’s vice president of business development, adding, “We’re fortunate to have a great group of returning guests who often return with several new friends or family members every year.”
And while Horizon RV Resorts does see college kids at some of its locations, the company’s Leisure Resort property in Fentress caters to families. “Our specialty is providing a fun family atmosphere that almost every type of guest can appreciate,” Foos said. “Additionally, the San Marcos River flows along the banks of the resort. It’s spring-fed just 20 miles away, and maintains a comfortable cruising speed and consistently warm temperatures.”
Foos said he also anticipates a bump in occupancy’s at Almost Heaven RV Resort in Manvel during the Spring Break period.
When a Dallas-based investment group bought Almost Heaven RV Resort two years ago, the 142-site park was in a pretty sad state of repair.
But, according to a press release, Almost Heaven’s new owners weren’t about to give up on the resort, which had previously been popular with Winter Texans. So they brought in Horizon RV Resorts, which has developed a reputation in the RV park business for rescuing faltering RV parks and making them profitable businesses again.
So far, the Dallas-based investment group is pretty happy with its decision.
“We brought the park back to life,” said Randy Hendrickson, Horizon RV Park’s president and CEO.
Occupancies are running 30% to 35% ahead of last winter’s figures, fueled largely by Winter Texans who decided to give the resort another try after Horizon implemented $45,000 worth of targeted cosmetic improvements.
Hendrickson also worked with Brian Schaeffer of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), who outlined a marketing strategy that included banner ads on TexasCampgrounds.com as well as prominent exposure in the Texas RV Camping and Travel Guide.
“The person who asks the loudest for the business generally gets it,” Hendrickson said.
Almost Heaven is also generating increased year-round business by offering discounts to cancer patients seeking treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Children’s Cancer Hospital and other Houston area facilities.
Looking back, Hendrickson said Almost Heaven’s downward spiral could have been avoided if the resort had kept up with its marketing and made ongoing improvements to the park. Unfortunately, he said, they got too comfortable and felt they could get away with not making these investments.
“When you stop spending money on marketing,” Hendrickson said, “people stop coming. And if they stop coming, you don’t have money to spend on infrastructure. So the business spirals.”
And if occupancies are not maintained, the parks don’t retain enough of a margin to reinvest in improvements.
“You have to show that you’re reinvesting in the property as a commitment to the guest,” Hendrickson said, adding that it didn’t take long for Almost Heaven’s guests to realize the previous owner had lost in interest in the property.
Charles Nunn said he will refuse to pay a new water charge because it is against the law, even though the city of San Benito, Texas, is threatening to shut off water to his RV park.
“They’ve got to be trespassing to get to my meter,” Nunn said, pointing to the master water meter at First Colony Mobile and RV Park .
According to a report in The Monitor, Nunn said his park hasn’t paid $5,300 that has been charged since October when the city passed an ordinance setting a monthly $10 base water fee to individual RV sites, whether the sites are occupied or not.
“I said, ‘I’m not paying,’” he said. “I never paid for anything I didn’t owe.”
Nunn cited a state law that he argues prohibits cities from charging water fees to unmetered sites at RV parks.
The law in question was filed in 2005 by state Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, and State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, authored Senate Bill 569 and House Bill 841, respectively.
“The bill was brought to us by campground owners who were concerned about aggressive billing,” Chris Steinbach, Kolkhorst’s chief of staff, said. “So the bill was to keep the billing as accurate as possible.”
State Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, last year authored revised legislation known as House Bill 1210, which prohibits cities from charging all unmetered RV sites, whether they’re occupied or unoccupied, said Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
The law exempts mobile homes and permanently tied-down park models from water meter charges, Schaeffer said.
Barbara North, who manages Nunn’s park, said she doesn’t want to take a chance that the city won’t refund the money if it stops charging the fee.
“They’re going to have to back off and when they back off, the city won’t refund it,” North said.
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The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) has begun to distribute 250,000 copies of the 2012 RV Travel & Camping Guide to Texas, a free, four-color glossy magazine that lists more than 350 campgrounds and RV resorts in Texas and surrounding states.
The 2012 guide, whose cover features a painting of a modern Class A motorhome in front of the Alamo, includes detailed information on campgrounds, RV parks and resorts, as well as old western style maps and prominent advertisements from Kampgrounds of America (KOA) and Trader’s Village, the largest flea market in Texas, according to a news release.
“We really have an eye-catching guide this year,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Crowley-based TACO, adding that the cover painting by Chris Snoddy of Burleson and the Western-style maps make the directory both fun and informative.
An initial batch of directories is being sent to campgrounds, RV parks, travel information centers and visitors bureaus across the state. Additional directories will be distributed at upcoming RV shows, including the All Valley RV Show, which takes place Jan. 12-14 in Mercedes; the Houston RV Show, which will be held Feb. 8-12 in Houston; and the Sept. 13-16 Southwest RV Super Show in Dallas.
The 2012 directory provides detailed descriptions of more than 350 private campgrounds and RV resorts, or roughly two thirds of the private parks in Texas. A small number of New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas parks are also included in the directory. Each campground listing includes a grid that lists the park’s facilities, services and amenities as well as driving directions, a miniature locator map and many parks have panoramic photos showing off what campers can experience.
RV and camping enthusiasts can order the nearly 150-page directory online by visiting www.texascampgrounds.com. The 2012 Texas RV Travel & Camping Guide is also posted on the website in digital page-turning format.
Texas Campground operators, hurt by the state’s hot, dry summer, are anticipating a rebound this season because of “winter Texans,” those out-of-state residents who migrate to the warmer parts of the Lone Star State to avoid the coldest weeks back home.
“Many of our affiliates are reporting much higher bookings for the winter season than they experienced last year,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
According to a report in the American-Statesmen, Austin, this summer’s drought hurt many RV parks and campgrounds, particularly those located on lakes or rivers.
“Last summer was the worst summer I’ve had in years due to the drought,” said Doug Shearer, owner of Parkview Riverside RV Resort in Concan, near Uvalde. “But our winter is looking good.”
Shearer said reservations were running 10% to 15% ahead of last winter.
Bryan Kastleman, managing partner at Hill Country RV Resort in New Braunfels, said his bookings are up because of more than just winter Texans. He said the surge in the San Antonio economy is creating a need for workers to find temporary places to stay.
“It’s looking really strong,” Kastleman said of the winter bookings.
Teri Blaschke, who co-owns the Hidden Valley RV Park in Von Ormy, just southwest of San Antonio, said she’s expanding because of temporary workers looking for housing.
“We’ve been full for the month, and there is no end in sight, which is wonderful,” she said.
RV parks that have park models are attractive to temporary workers.
Park models typically are 300 to 400 square feet, with the option of an additional 150 square feet of loft space for children. Some come with porches. Decks can be added once the model is anchored, its trailer hitch detached and its underside carriage hidden by skirting that matches the building’s exterior.
Ken Butschek, who owns La Hacienda RV Resort near Lake Travis, said his park models are attracting winter Texans who don’t want to drive their RVs over wintery roads.
“I’m getting a lot of people renting my park models this winter because they don’t want to rent an apartment or sign a lease,” Butschek said. “Here they don’t even have to turn on utilities. They just bring their clothes and food, and they’re good.”
Butschek said he is considering adding eight park models next year to his stock of 21 because of the winter traffic.
“It’s a market I didn’t plan on,” Butschek said.
The San Benito, Texas, city water fee ordinance violates a state law that prohibits cities from charging RV parks for water at empty sites, residents at Fun N Sun RV Resort said Tuesday (Dec. 20).
According to a report in the Brownsville Herald, Senate Bill 569 and House Bill 841 require that cities charge RV parks only for water that is used, Bonnie Dominguez, manager at Fun N Sun, said.
An ordinance passed by commissioners in October sets a monthly $10 base fee for water to individual units at RV parks and apartment complexes, and applies to unoccupied spaces at RV parks and to vacant apartments.
On Tuesday, Pete Claudio, chairman of the city’s utility board that recommended the charges, said he was unaware of the law.
After weeks of complaints, officials said they would review the ordinance as it applies to the unoccupied RV sites.
“It’s in black and white. The ball is in their court,” Dominguez said Tuesday. “They’re supposed to only charge for usage, not unoccupied sites.”
Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), an organization that sponsored a 2011 version of the law known as House Bill 1210, recommended that Dominguez present city officials with the legislation.
“Basically these bills establish state law that RV parks can only be charged for actual usage,” Schaeffer wrote in an e-mail to Dominguez.
“As a result of these laws,” Schaeffer wrote, “we have had cities and water boards stop the practice of individual site billing, particularly phantom billing (empty sites).”
He added that the city “will probably resist and try to make up a number of lame excuses to avoid following the law. We’ve heard them all.”
Fun N Sun residents were outraged to learn that city officials were unaware of the law.
“I think it’s pretty cut and dry. San Benito is in violation of state law,” Ed Jones, a retired teacher who lives at Fun N Sun, said. “The parks are to be charged like any other business. When they add that $10 surcharge it singles out that business. The park cannot be charged for water that it doesn’t use.”
Resident Donald Boyd said the city ordinance has sparked the park’s hottest controversy in years.
“I would say this is the worst thing that’s happened to get people fired up,” Boyd, a retired inventory specialist, said.
Residents are concerned they will be stuck footing the bill at the park whose 1,400 units will be charged a total of $168,000 a year.
Dominguez has said as many as 300 of the park’s sites remain empty year-round because they’re too small for bigger, late-model mobile homes and RVs.
“If the park gets hit paying for empty lots, it’s going to at least pass part of the cost to us,” Boyd said, adding that higher fees could force some Winter Texans to leave parks in San Benito.
“If people feel like they’ve been cheated, they will make adjustments and go elsewhere,” Boyd said. “I think you’ll see people sell out and not come back.”
Boyd warned that some residents could boycott city businesses.
“It’s going to hurt all the business in this part of the Valley because people aren’t going to spend their money,” Boyd said.
The city’s new ordinance would generate about $348,000 a year from the $10 charge for about 2,900 park sites and apartment units, boosting the city’s coffers during a time when the national recession has driven sales taxes to a six-year low, Claudio said.
City officials argue the ordinance makes RV parks and apartment complexes shoulder part of the burden of high water rates that have climbed since 2004. Single-family homes bear the brunt of average monthly base water and sewer fees of $49.68, they said.
Texas wildfire evacuees are seeking temporary shelter in campgrounds and RV parks while their homes and neighborhoods are inspected to see if and when it will be safe for them to return home.
While more than 1,500 homes have been destroyed in the wildfires during the past week, others have sustained partial damage or smoke damage that must be repaired before families can return to their homes, according to a news release.
“A number of parks are filling up with evacuees, insurance adjusters and others involved in the wildfire cleanup effort,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“We were already nearly 80% full when the fires began, but now we have filled the park up with evacuees and insurance adjusters,” said Juanita Voigt, co-owner of 128-site Highway 71 RV Park in Cedar Creek.
Voigt said some of the evacuees staying at her park had borrowed RVs from family members. Local church groups were also making two RVs available to families in need of temporary shelter.
Voigt said her park was also providing two weeks of free camping to evacuees who had not yet received insurance compensation or were otherwise facing immediate economic hardship as a result of the fire.
Gwen Craig, co-owner of Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring and Timberline Village RV Village in Magnolia, said she has been receiving evacuees and insurance adjusters at both of her parks. “A lot of (evacuees) called who were really upset. They didn’t know if they would have to stay or not” because of the uncertainties involving the fires.
Craig said she invited several evacuating families who called her to come to her park with their kids on Sunday. “We opened our pool area up to people who just needed to take the kids and have a fun day,” she said, adding, “We normally try to assist and help in situations like this.”
Craig said her guests have also been participating in food, water and snack collection efforts for firefighters. “We’ve been collecting protein bars, snacks, bottled water and Gatorade,” she said, adding that the donations are taken to a collection point for fighters who have been working the Magnolia fire.
Smoke from wildfires 50 miles away cover the horizon on the edge of Austin, Texas.
Craig said she’s continuing to receive calls from evacuees and that some callers are looking for long-term campsites, which means they probably will have to camp out for several months while their homes are repaired or rebuilt.
“People are still in shock,” said Dale Slaughter of the Hobo Camp in Bastrop. “They don’t know how long they’re going to need a place.”
At least one Texas campground was also damaged by the wildfires.
Toad Hollow RV Park, a 30-site park in Bastrop, was largely destroyed by the fire. “Our main building and bathhouse survived, but everything else is gone,” said Judy Horn, the park’s owner, adding that many of her guests had lost their RVs in the fire. Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) were at her park today (Sept. 13).
Park operators aren’t doing enough to attract a diverse business base that reflects America’s changing demographics, said Larry Brownfield, a senior business development consultant for Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA).
“Do we want to survive?” Brownfield asked Tuesday (May 3) during an educational workshop at the spring meeting of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO). “We’ve got to be aggressively targeting ethnic diversity.”
According to a news release, Brownfield shared a KOA handout that included 2010 Census data showing that white Caucasians account for only 66% of the U.S. population, while African Americans and Hispanics make up 17% and 12% of the population, respectively. Five percent of the U.S. population is Asian.
White Caucasians represent 87% of American campers, however, according to a 2009 Outdoor Foundation survey, while Hispanics, African Americans and Asians represent a mere 6%, 3% and 4%, respectively.
And if you fast forward to 2050, the U.S. Census estimates that white Caucasians will account for only 46% of the population, while Hispanics, African Americans and Asians will account for 30%, 15% and 9%, respectively. “It’s a wakeup call for us,” Brownfield said.
Addressing other topics, Brownfield noted that today’s consumers are increasingly demanding and more informed than ever, thanks in part to the Internet. We are living in an “experience economy” and park operators need to pay attention to the type and quality of experiences they offer their guests. “It’s the value that the experience holds for the individual that determines the worth of the offering,” he said.
Brownfield added that KOA owners or managers who meet with their guests receive much higher guest satisfaction scores than those who do not, according to KOA’s Kamper Satisfaction Surveys.
Park operators also need to pay attention to their pet friendliness. Brownfield noted that families account for 26% of KOA’s Texas campers, while campers traveling with pets account for 41%. Nationally, families account for 34% of KOA’s guests, while people traveling with pets represent 35%.
Brownfield was one of several campground industry experts who gave educational presentations at TACO’s Spring Convention Tuesday at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville.
In addition to providing a keynote address, Lori Severson of Severson & Associates and the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners led a class on maximizing employee potential, while Casey Erick of McKamie Krueger LLP held a session titled, “Facing Legal Challenges.”
Wade Elliott of Utility Supply Group talked about strategies park operators can use to provide recharge services for travelers with electric cars and Bob MacKinnon provided updates on the GuestReviews online survey program as well as a session on how to deal with a negative review. Michael Moore and Matt Taylor from Texas Advertising also led a marketing session titled “Playing the Google Game.”
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) announced the winners of its annual awards competition during a luncheon Tuesday (May 3) at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas.
The awards presentation came during TACO’s annual Spring Convention.
According to a news release, winners included:
- Small Park of the Year: Johnson Creek RV Resort, Ingram.
- Medium Size Park of the Year: The Vineyards Campground & Cabins, Grapevine.
- Large Park of the Year: Guadalupe River RV Resort, Kerrville.
- Rack Card of the Year: Alamo Palms Manufactured Home and RV Park, Alamo.
- Brochure of the Year: Hill Country RV Resort, New Braunfels.
- Website of the Year: The Vineyards Campground & Cabins, Grapevine.
- Supplier of the Year: Texas Advertising, Crowley.
Past President Doug Shearer of Parkview Riverside RV Park in Concan was also recognized for his years of service, while Guadalupe River RV Resort was given a host award for hosting TACO’s Spring Convention.
A “Lifetime Achievement Award” was presented Monday to Mac and Bettye McLaughlin of Hatch RV Park in Corpus Christi.