Tourist Development Tax leading the way with 65% uptick
This week, the director of Sarasota County’s Office of Financial Management had good news about the current fiscal year’s revenue trends as the County Commission looks ahead to the 2024 fiscal year.
During the commission’s March 23 budget workshop, Kim Radtke pointed out that the county’s major revenue funds are 27.9% above the figure that staff had budgeted through the first half of this fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2022.
Additionally, the county’s Public Utilities Department revenue is up 15%, compared to the amount staff had anticipated that the department would receive through March.
Revenue that goes into the county’s General Fund — other than property tax payments — is 19.3% higher than the budgeted number through the first six months, a slide said.
Moreover, Radtke noted, county expenditures overall account for just 39% of what was expected to be paid out from Oct. 1, 2022 through the end of March.
On the revenue side, the highest jump above the amount projected to be collected for any of the major revenue sources rests with the county’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax.” For the first half of this fiscal year, a slide showed, staff had anticipated the total to be $12,207,201. Instead, Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff had recorded $20,183,673. The latter figure was 65.3% above the projection of the Office of Financial Management (OFM).
Radtke did note that the bed tax rose from 5% to 6% at the start of this fiscal year, which has helped boost the funding that Ford-Coates’ office receives from the entities that collect the tax. That tax is charged on rentals of accommodations for six months or less time.
She also reminded the board members, “We had a miraculous year last year,” with the Tourist Development Tax setting yet another record, following its record at the end of the 2021 fiscal year.
She has reported that the “bed tax” revenue set a new record each year for more than a decade. Then, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida in March 2020, the funds shrank, as health advisories nationally and statewide cautioned people to avoid public situations in which they could be exposed to the coronavirus.
Another double-digit revenue jump over what staff had budgeted for this fiscal year involves the extra penny of sales tax revenue that the county imposes. That “surtax” had brought in 30.1% more money through March, Radtke pointed out. The budgeted amount was $22,566,250; the actual revenue was $29,353,336.
Further, gas tax revenue is “back to the pre-pandemic levels,” she told the commissioners. For the first half of this fiscal year, the OFM had projected total revenue of $8,926,407. Instead, the collections added up to $9,540,033, which was 6.9% higher.
Another slide showed details of the higher revenue for the county’s major utility funds. For example, the account that holds retail wastewater revenues and water quality fees was expected to have $36,668,803 through March; the actual total was 18.8% higher: $43,573,516.
Water customer payments and bulk water sales added up to $26,850,595 through March, a figure that was 10.7% higher than anticipated, that slide said.
In regard to the General Fund’s major revenues — other than property tax payments — Radtke pointed out that, since it had been trending downward in recent years, staff had budgeted more conservatively for the Communications Sales Tax funding this year. That 5.42% tax on retail sales of communications services is collected by the state, the slide noted. County Administrator Jonathan Lewis explained to the commissioners earlier this year that the revenue has been declining because more and more people are using cell phones instead of landlines.
Through March, the revenue from the Communications Sales Tax was up 19% — to $4,495,634 — compared to the $3,777,088 figure that OFM staff had projected for the first six months of this fiscal year.
During the 2022 fiscal year, staff received $8.7 million, a slide showed. Between the 2005 fiscal year and the 2022 fiscal year, the largest total of Communications Sales Tax proceeds was $11.4 million, in FY 2007. The figure fell to $8.3 million in the 2021 fiscal year.
Additionally, the Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) franchise fee payments to the county were up 12% through March, another slide said. The total was $11,208,780.
“It’s a good thing for us on the revenue side,” Radtke told the board members. However, she acknowledged that the increases in rates that FPL has imposed over the past couple of years mean higher bills for the county, as well as other customers.
During the 2022 fiscal year, the county took in $21.6 million in the FPL franchise fees, a chart noted. Staff anticipates receiving a total of $19.8 million this fiscal year. The largest figure for those fees in a given fiscal year other than 2022 — going back to 2005 — was $18.6 million in the 2009 fiscal year, that chart said.
Altogether, the General Fund slide showed, the amount budgeted for those revenue sources at the midpoint of the current fiscal year was $38,471,662. Yet, the county has collected 19.3% more, with the money adding up to $45,901,216.
Showing the board members yet another slide, Radtke said that ambulance fee collections were up 36.6% through March, compared to the amount budgeted. The total as of March 31 was $7,745,631.
“That [revenue] has gone up pretty significantly,” Radtke told the commissioners. It declined during the height of the pandemic, she added. The climb is attributable not only to the fact that the county’s population continues to grow, Radtke explained, but also to the increase in the number of emergency events that the Sarasota County Fire Department is handling.
The other side of the ledger
Referring to the expenditures side of the figurative ledger, Radtke pointed out that the only fund that had spent more than half of its money at the year’s midpoint was the one for medical benefits. That fund had paid out 58% of its budgeted amount through March: $23,000,661.
“We have seen some increase in claims,” Radtke acknowledged.
In contrast, the applicable chart showed, the Utilities Fund had paid out only 25% of its budgeted amount through March.
Among county departments controlled by the County Commission, the Human Resources Department’s payments represented the highest percentage of a budget spent through March: 47% or $26,219,542. The lowest percentage was claimed by the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension and Sustainability Program: 24%, or $674,166.