Marin County's online services help boost tax, license revenue and compliance

Marin County's new online portal to renew transient occupancy taxes and business licenses are helping to increase revenue and save time and resources, according to a one-year review of the programs by the county's Department of Finance.

The implementation of online processes for the business licenses and transient occupancy taxes was a key component of the Department of Finance's five-year strategic plan.

Vacation rental business operators that collect transient occupancy taxes in unincorporated areas of Marin County are now filing their monthly TOT returns electronically.

The shift to paperless reporting also has reduced printing and postage costs, led to fewer tax computation errors and increased efficiencies and better communication with business operators, the Department of Finance said. 

In October 2018, the department had approximately 345 active transient occupancy tax registrations. There are now 837.

The department's staff invited more than 800 vacation business operators to public workshops to help them register their rental properties and answer questions about the TOT. The workshops were especially useful for West Marin operators who have been paying voter-approved Measure W, 4 percent transient occupancy tax increase since Jan. 1.

The county enlisted Seattle-based Host Compliance to identify non-compliant short-term rental operators. Letters explaining the rental business operator's TOT responsibilities were sent to 561 non-compliant operators. 

The county sought voluntary compliance to avoid an advanced collection process and legal action, and achieved a 97 percent response rate for TOT and business license registration.

The county also recovered three years of back taxes as required under Measure W.

The larger TOT provides increased funding for fire and emergency services and long-term community housing. It generated around $1.5 million in revenue in 2019.

Business license renewals are due by July 1, and the online renewal option prompted more businesses to meet that deadline. Bulk email reminders to businesses with expired licenses resulted in an 80 percent reduction in prior-year delinquencies, the Department of Finance said.