‘Bed tax’ revenue down 8.7% for first two months of fiscal year in Sarasota County

Red tide effects on tourism reflected in latest report from Tax Collector’s Office

Karen Fralich works on ‘The Butterfly Effect’ during the 2018 Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, held in November 2018. Even though no official figures have been released yet, anecdotal information indicates fewer people attended the Crystal Classic last year. Photo by Harriet Cuthbert

Sarasota County “bed tax” revenue for the second month of the current fiscal year continues to show red tide’s effect on tourism.

Collections of the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) for November 2018 totaled $74,092.83 less than they did in November 2017, Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates has announced.

Thus far for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2018, overall TDT revenue is down $209,019.47, compared to the amount reported for the same period of 2017, Ford-Coates’ staff notes in the latest TDT report.

The 5% bed tax is collected on rentals of accommodations for six months or less time.

Even though the impact of the red tide bloom in the Gulf of Mexico had diminished to a great extent on Sarasota County’s coastline by November, businesses in the tourism industry indicated that fewer people visited the area than in recent Novembers because of all the national publicity about the bloom.

As an illustration of those reports, one reader of The Sarasota News Leader lamented in a Facebook comment that she had missed the annual Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival held on Siesta Key in early November. The writer pointed out that, at the time she had to confirm her annual reservation for accommodations for the Crystal Classic, she was fearful that red tide still would be bad in November. Thus, she decided to cancel the reservation.

During August, especially, fish kills — and deaths of other wildlife — received considerable national publicity, along with information about the “red tide cough,” a result of the algae’s effects on the human respiratory system.

This is the latest report on Tourist Development Tax collections in the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office

During a presentation to members of the county’s Tourist Development Council on Jan. 17, Doreen Buonpastore, a fiscal analyst in the county’s Office of Financial Management, pointed out that even though the bed tax revenue declined for August and September 2018, compared to the same months in 2017, the overall revenue figure for the 2018 fiscal year was up 6.8%.

The FY18 total cited in the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s report through November 2018 was $22,759,944.06. That compares to $21,362,568.12 for the 2017 fiscal year. Both those figures are up just a bit, compared to Ford-Coates’ staff’s report through October 2018. As Ford-Coates has explained, audits and enforcement actions can lead to adjustments of figures from month-to-month.

During her Jan. 17 remarks to the Tourist Development Council, Buonpastore also noted that staff has budgeted for TDT revenue of $22.5 million for the current fiscal year, which will end on Sept. 30. Last year, she said, staff budgeted for $22.9 million. This year, she added, “We’re basically flat. … It might be a little tight,” she said, of reaching the $22.5-million goal.

For October and November 2018, Buonpastore pointed out, the total TDT revenue of $2,185,837.82 was down 8.7% compared to the combined figure for those months in 2017.

Nonetheless, as a result of Tax Collector’s Office refinement of the October 2018 total — through audits or other action — the year-over-year decline originally reported had fallen by more than $3,300 when the latest figures were ready for release.

As for November: For that month in 2017, the amount of TDT revenue was $1,247,281.15; for November 2018, it was $1,173,188.32.

In her report about November tourism, sent to City and County of Sarasota leaders, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, wrote in a Jan. 7 email that the number of visitors declined 4% year-over-year, and their spending was down 1.2% in November 2018, compared to November 2017.

This is the latest breakdown of Tourist Development Tax collections by location. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office

Hotel room occupancy fell 10.1%, Haley continued, to 59.9%, and room rates were flat at $168.

“Unfortunately, the red tide has impacted our visitor satisfaction,” she added. That figure stood at 94% in November 2017; it dropped to 86% in November 2018.

The latest TDT location report, reflecting how much of the revenue has been collected by entities in each municipality and on the individual barrier islands so far this fiscal year, shows the city of Sarasota in the lead. That municipality has accounted for 38.55% of the total. Siesta Key is in second place, with 22.46%.

Typically, the city remains in the lead until late spring or early summer. Siesta Key has accounted for the largest amount of TDT revenue for the past several fiscal years.