‘Bed tax’ revenue for Sarasota County finally shows a year-over-year increase

Collections through April up almost $166,600, compared to total for first seven months of 2018 fiscal year

The Old Salty Dog is packed on an early April evening in Siesta Village. Rachel Hackney photo

It may have taken more than half of the current fiscal year, but Sarasota County’s Tourist Development — or “bed tax” — revenue finally has marked a year-over-year increase.

Through April 30, Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff report, the county had taken in a total of $16,111,231.01 of Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue. That figure was $166,577.64 more than the total for collections from Oct. 1, 2017 through April 30, 2018.

For April itself, Ford-Coates’ staff added up $2,217,003.93 in TDT revenue; that exceeded the figure for April 2018 by $102,389.77.

Thus far this fiscal year, the Tax Collector’s Office report also noted, collections from people who rent through homes through Airbnb have totaled $940,533.57.

The April 2018 report put the Airbnb figure at $668,591.67.

Moreover, the latest Tax Collector’s Office data — reflecting audits and other refinements of the TDT collections for March — produced a revision of the year-over-year increase for that month. The April report shows the total actually was close to twice the uptick previously reported.

The figures Ford-Coates’ staff issued in its previous report said TDT revenue was up $76,273.85 in March, compared to the figure for the same month of 2018. The latest data puts that March increase at $135,896.65.

These are the latest Tourist Development Tax figures for Sarasota County. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

At times in the past, Virginia Haley, president of the county’s tourism office, Visit Sarasota County, has indicated to The Sarasota News Leader that an entity that collects the tax might have underestimated a figure, as that business worked to meet the Tax Collector’s Office’s deadline for making its report.

Ford-Coates herself has pointed out many times in public meetings that a number of factors can lead to changes in figures from month to month.

For another example in the March report, the TDT revenue for January was put at $2,617,101.64. That represented a drop of $14,350.32, compared to the total for January 2018.

However, in the new report, the total for bed tax collections in January was listed as $2,618,261.67; that meant the year-over-year decline for that month was $14,016.51.

Red tide was the reason for lower TDT collections in the early months of the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2018, Haley and other county leaders have pointed out.

After the bloom began killing sea life — with tons of dead fish washing up on the county’s beaches last summer — tourism practically ground to a halt, business owners told the County Commission.

For the past month, the weekly reports the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has distributed on red tide have shown the algae, Karenia brevis, observed at concentrations characterized no worse than “very low” in Sarasota County.

On May 31 and again on June 7, FWC reported that the algae was observed only “at background concentrations” in the county.

Nonetheless, in a May 31 email to City and County of Sarasota leaders, Haley of Visit Sarasota County wrote, “We are still seeing a slowdown in our summer bookings as consumers seem to be waiting to make sure that red tide is not returning to the area.”

These figures show how much of the TDT revenue so far this fiscal year has been collected in various parts of the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

For several years, the year-end total for TDT revenue broke Sarasota County records. In the 2018 fiscal year, it added up to $22,797,175.67, Ford-Coates’ staff noted. In the 2017 fiscal year, it was $21,377,350.46; for FY16, it was $20,122,741.62.

The 5% bed tax is charged on all accommodations rented for six months or less time.

Prior to her retirement from Sarasota County staff, Carolyn Brown, who served as director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, explained to the County Commission that after the total reaches $30 million a year, state law would allow the board to consider increasing the tax to 6%.

As for her report on April tourism statistics resulting from research undertaken for her office, Haley noted in her May 31 email to community leaders that, thanks to Easter’s April date this year, “Sarasota County saw a 1.8% increase in visitors in paid lodging” — for a total of 132,700 — and “a 2.5% increase in visitor spending,” to $131,487,200.

She added, “Hotel occupancy for April dropped 1.1% to 75.2% and the average daily rate also dropped by 2.2% to $201.92. However, room nights sold increased by 3.4% to 289,600 thanks to our increased occupancy.”