‘Bed tax’ revenue down about 54% for May, compared to 88% drop in April, as a result of pandemic

County staff had projected a 70% decline

This is Siesta Key Public Beach on May 4, with county employees and Sheriffs Office personnel emphasizing social distancing. The parking lots for the county-operated public beaches reopened that day, after having been closed since late March. Image courtesy of Visit Sarasota County via Twitter

During her July 1 budget presentation to the Sarasota County Commission, Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates offered a preview of the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) collections for May, pointing out that they were not nearly as far down — compared to the same month in 2019 — as the April figures were.

As it turned out, with the final figures in, the revenue report is even better than the preliminary data indicated. However, the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic on tourism are clear.

In May 2019, the county took in $1,591,306.13 in Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue. In May of this year, the total dropped to $732,924.78, a 54% decrease, according to the report released by Ford-Coates’ staff.

Overall, the TDT collections through May are down $2,772,520.12 compared to the amount of money taken in from Oct. 1, 2018 through May 31, 2019, the report shows.

Through April, the total TDT revenue collected for the fiscal was lower by $2,001,053.13, compared to the 2019 fiscal year’s figure for the same period.

The Tourist Development Tax is charged on rentals of accommodations of six months or less time. The Tax Collector’s Office has agreements with online accommodations platforms, including Airbnb, HomeAway and TripAdvisor, so hosts working through those companies turn over TDT collections, as well.

This is the comparison chart for Tourist Development Tax revenue through May. The fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2019. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

The new report says Airbnb revenue for this fiscal year thus far adds up to $989,216.15. The previous report from the Tax Collector’s Office put the figure at $914,157.35.

Altogether, rentals through the online platforms with county collection agreements add up to $1,875,658.79, accounting for 12.49% of the total for the fiscal year through May.

The new report does provide some good news. Thanks to audits and other enforcement actions, the collections for every month of this fiscal year except October and November have grown.

For example, the previous Tax Collector’s report noted that revenue was up $473,975.66 in January, compared to the same month in 2019. The new report raises that figure to $477,405.66.

For another example: The previous report showed collections in February were higher by $617,615.49, compared to the total for February 2019. In the new report, that month-over-month hike climbed to $654,731.25.

For more than a decade, the county achieved new records with its TDT collections. Last fiscal year, the total amount taken in was $23,377,852.44.

The model the county’s Office of Financial Management created for this fiscal year, which reflects the effects of COVID-19 on a variety of revenue sources, showed staff’s projection that the April TDT revenue would be down 75%, when the figure was closer to 88.5%. For May, staff predicted a 70% drop.

This is the May report showing how much TDT revenue has been collected thus far, by location. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Virginia Haley, president of the county’s tourism office, Visit Sarasota County, had predicted a decrease from 60% to 70% for May, as she noted in an email to community leaders.

In regard to other location reporting data for the fiscal year through May, the Tax Collector’s Office notes that entities in the city of Sarasota have accounted for 28.75% of the money, with Siesta Key in second place at 27.29%.

In her report on May data for county leaders, Haley, of VSC offered the following information in an email:

  • The number of visitors to the county in May totaled 35,200, down 68.9% compared to the figure for May 2019.
  • Direct visitor expenditures in May were down 72.6%, to $30,107,800, compared to the figure for May 2019.
  • Lodging occupancy was 21.7%, which marked a decline of 66.1% from the May 2019 number.
  • The average lodging room rate dropped 13.1%, to $149.50.
  • The number of rooms sold in May fell 72.3%, to 63,900, compared to the total in May 2019.