Local News

TDC wants bed tax hiked

SEBRING - Tourist Development Council members will ask the Highlands County commissioners next month to raise the bed tax from 2 percent to 3 percent.
The tax won’t go to a vote of the people, said Fred Leavitt, president of Heartland Cultural Alliance. “I don’t think they want that. It would be shot down.”
However, TDC chairman Don Elwell said that the commissioners can decide whether to pass the tax themselves or put the issue on the ballot.
Although he has reservations about the specifics, Leavitt said he will support the tax, which was originally passed by Highlands County citizens in November 2002.
He will ask the commissioners to reject the portion of the plan that will allow the commissioners to spend the money without regards to the original 2002 categories, which called for 29 percent of the money collected from rental of hotel rooms and other temporary lodgings to be spent on administration, 17 percent on arts and culture, and other specific percentages on lakes and events.
The 2 percent tax currently brings in more than $300,000 annually; the estimated gross from 3 percent is about $464,000, according to a TDC worksheet.
The plan proposed by the TDC on Thursday calls for 70 percent to be spent in Category A “to promote and advertise tourism by means of promotions and advertising unrelated to a specific service, venue or event …”
To Leavitt, that means no earmark for arts and culture. Elwell thinks arts will get even more money.
Category B would include 20 percent “to promote and advertise local activities, services, venues and events having as one of their main purposes the attraction of tourists to Highlands County …”
Category C reserves 10 percent “to finance beach park facilities or beach improvement, maintenance, renourishment, restoration and erosion control, including shoreline protection, enhancement, cleanup or restoration of inland lakes to which there is a public access as those uses relate to the physical preservation of the beach, shoreline, or inland lake …”
“They will spend it for whatever they want, depending on their mood,” Leavitt predicted. “The money for administration will be taken off the top.”
Currently, the office employs Director John Scherlacher and Assistant Director Dana Knight.
Leavitt asked for and received an earmark “to bring in a marketing firm or person to work with art and culture to promote the county’s assets. A request for proposals from firms will be issued.”
The proposal to increase the tax was made a year ago by council member Terry Heston. John Griffin and Elwell voted against it.
“I thought that it was not the time for the increase,” Elwell said. As the TDC chair, he will bring the council’s proposal to the board, “but I’m not going to telegraph how I will vote.”
He also did not want to say whether he wants the commission to vote on the matter or whether he wants citizens to choose in a general election.
Elwell believed the issue would be heard at the 5 p.m. May 28 commission meeting.


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