‘Bed tax’ revenue and visitor statistics set records in Sarasota County in January

For first time, Tourist Development tax total tops $3 million for that month

The pineapple in downtown Sarasota awaits its drop on New Year’s Eve 2019. Holiday celebrations in the county draw visitors as well as tourists from late December into January. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” revenue not only continued its climb through January, but it set a new record for that month, surpassing the $3-million mark, the latest Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office report shows.

Underscoring that, Virginia Haley, president of the county’s tourism office — Visit Sarasota County — recently reported to local government leaders that the county greeted the biggest number of visitors ever for January. The total was 119,700, which marked a 5.8% increase above the figure for January 2019, Haley pointed out.

Entities that collect the 5% tax on rentals of accommodations for six months or less time turned over $3,059,972.90 to Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates’ staff for January of this year, the office’s latest report says. The amount was up $440,397.44 — or close to 17% — compared to the figure for January 2019.

Altogether, the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue total for the first four months of the current fiscal year is higher by $971,255.47 than the amount for the same period of the 2019 fiscal year.

Each fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

This is the Tourist Development Tax revenue report through January. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question, Sherri Smith, chief deputy tax collector for Sarasota County, provided charts showing the TDT revenue figures for January going back to the 2012 fiscal year. The total for January 2012 was $1,538,482.96. Just two years later, in 2014, it had jumped to $1,873,441.99. Then, in the 2015 fiscal year, collections for January surpassed the $2-million mark, the data show. However, the revenue total dropped in January 2017 before climbing again in January 2018.

Because of red tide woes, the initial report for January 2019 said total TDT revenue for that month was down $138,912.86, compared to the amount for January 2018. After further refinement of the figure as the 2019 fiscal year continued, the final figure for January 2019 marked a decrease of just 0.38%, compared to the amount collected in January 2018.

Even with the red tide bloom that lingered from the fall of 2017 into early 2019, the TDT revenue broke another record at the end of the 2019 fiscal year. It has been setting new marks at least since the 2012 fiscal year, as noted in the charts Smith sent the News Leader this week.

The 2012 fiscal year total was $13,977,796.35. As of Sept. 30, 2019, the total TDT revenue for the last fiscal year was $23,354,198.19, Chief Deputy Tax Collector Smith told members of the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) last month.

These are Tourist Development Tax revenue comparisons for January for the fiscal years of 2012 through 2014. Image courtesy Sarasota County Deputy Chief Tax Collector Sherri Smith

On Feb. 20, Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, also reported to the TDC members that the TDT revenue had an average annual growth rate of 9.6% over the past 10 years, while the average for just the past six years was a 6.6% increase.

The funds are used to pay for beach maintenance and renourishment; debt repayment on the bonds that financed the new Atlanta Braves Spring Training complex in the West Villages; upkeep of the Baltimore Orioles’ Spring Training facilities at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota; and promotional efforts by Visit Sarasota County to bring more tourists to the area, among other initiatives.

A graphic shows how funds from each of the five pennies of the Tourist Development Tax were allocated to county programs and infrastructure in the 2019 fiscal year. mage courtesy Sarasota County

Among further findings in the latest Tax Collector’s Office report is that the TDT revenue for both November and December 2019 was higher than initially reported. Instead of $2,005,074.61 in December 2019, the new report puts the amount at $2,037,657.90.

The November 2019 figure was up almost $8,200 compared to the amount noted in the previous report.

Tax Collector Ford-Coates and her staff emphasize the enforcement efforts and audits they undertake to ensure the county receives all the TDT revenue that it is owed.

As for location reporting: Entities in the city of Sarasota remain in first place, having collected 30.94% of the total through January. Siesta Key was in second place, with 22.91%.

This is the location report for TDT revenue through January. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Moreover, the online platforms that report their hosts’ TDT collections — including Airbnb and Vrbo — accounted for 15.03% of the revenue in January, the Tax Collector’s Office reported. In December 2019, those platforms contributed 16.11% of the TDT revenue.

This is the first year the Tax Collector’s Office has added a column to its location report, to note how much money it receives from the online platforms.

As for Airbnb individually: Thus far this fiscal year, its hosts are responsible for $719,111.26 of the overall TDT revenue, the Tax Collector’s Office report says.

In her update to local government leaders, Visit Sarasota County President Haley also noted plenty of other positive figures, as determined by a research firm that works on behalf of her agency.

Visitors’ direct spending in January was $139,930,300, a 5.9% increase above the number for January 2019 and also the highest January total ever in that category, Haley noted.

Likewise, she continued, the January lodging occupancy rate was the highest ever for that month, and the number of hotel rooms sold hit the biggest total ever for January. At 78.6%, the occupancy rate was higher by 8.1% than the January 2019 figure, she noted.

The number of hotel rooms sold in January was 312,400, a 3.6% increase over the total for January 2019, Haley pointed out.

Finally, she wrote, the average daily lodging room rate was $187.51, up 4.5% compared to the figure for January 2019 and the highest since 2015.