The Highlands County Tourist Development Council has had several fires going at the same time lately, but last Thursday members took the first steps to put out one of them. We hope the Highlands County Commission approves the vote taken by the council so at least that part can move forward.
The council decided to add a 20 percent earmark for arts and culture in its budget, meaning that 20 percent of the revenue generated through the 2 percent tourism bed tax will go to promote arts and cultural opportunities in the county. The council had appeared to want a different option of raising the bed tax to 3 percent and have no earmark for arts and culture.
Some council members had thought that they should decide how any money was spent, without a specific amount going to arts and culture. The arts and culture community complained that they have been shorted in the past and not nearly enough has been spent to attract people to Highlands County for those purposes.
Three members of the council were not present at Thursday's vote, but we're glad a vote was held anyway. It's time to find answers and move on.
County Commissioner Don Elwell, who also is chairman of the council, said that the public trust of use of the fund has been tarnished and changes are needed before considering whether more of a bed tax is necessary to properly fund the TDC's efforts. We agree. There has not been a scandal and no one has knowingly done anything wrong, but the budget has not been handled correctly or the money raised used in the most effective ways.
Now is the time to correct the course, move forward and see where we are and how we're doing. Once that's accomplished, perhaps a case can be made to increase the tax to 3 percent. Right now is not that time.
And we also agree that the arts and culture community deserve to have a bigger share of the promotional pie. A lot of interesting art is being created here and the arts and cultural community is passionate and working hard to build on that tradition.
With the needed votes by the county commission, the TDC can steer a new course. Yes, they will still face the faction that wants to stop the tax paid by tourists and put it to a vote, but that's a different issue. Let's move forward from here on the other issue.