Lost tourism revenue may force cuts in Mariposa County

Mariposa County is considering painful steps to deal with the lack of tourism dollars while Yosemite National Park remains closed.
October 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Mariposa County is considering painful steps to deal with the lack of tourism dollars while Yosemite National Park remains closed.

The county's C.A.O. says the general fund could lose about $800,000.00 in tourism revenue this month if the national park remains closed. He asked the board of supervisors to consider a mix of furloughs, layoffs, and closures to make up for the shutdown.

Mariposa's economy relies heavily on the tourists who travel on Highway 140 to Yosemite. But now that the national park is closed, hotels and other businesses are suffering.

Owners of the Monarch say they currently have no guests at all, and less than a third of the rooms are filled at the Comfort Inn Yosemite Valley Gateway.

Staff member Meredy Wells said, "There are a lot of people that are very unhappy about not getting into Yosemite, and very disappointed, and there are a lot of cancellations."

Wells is now helping tourism leaders promote the wide variety of activities in this area in hopes of attracting more visitors, but Chief Administrative Officer Rick Benson is extremely concerned.

Benson said, "The major source of revenue in Mariposa County is the transient occupancy tax, the tax on hotel rooms, and with Yosemite National Park closed virtually that market is drying up here in Mariposa County."

Benson presented several options to the board of supervisors Tuesday in front of a standing room only crowd. He's recommending the layoffs of all the extra help employees in the public works and library departments, which would essentially close the library system. He also suggests temporarily shutting down the visitor center. Several people spoke out against both of those ideas during the meeting.

One resident said, "Libraries are a lifeline for rural communities."

Kathy McCorry, who works at the visitor center said, "Please do not close the visitor center. We need this crucial hub now more than ever." But those are not the only options. Benson says if the shutdown continues past November first, the county should consider furloughing employees and equivalent pay cuts for managers and elected officials. That idea also drew criticism from residents and law enforcement leaders who say furloughs often create more expenses than they solve.

Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies said, "If deputies are furloughed, this would increase overtime costs significantly, we would completely exhaust our officers, jeopardizing their safety & the publics."

Supervisors decided not to take action until November first. They're hoping Yosemite will be back open by then, and they'll know exactly how much money they need to re-coup. But if the shutdown is still going on, it could continue to cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars each month.

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