‘Bed tax’ revenue marks two more months of year-over-year climbs in wake of red tide woes

Total for first six months of this fiscal year only about $3,400 below amount for same period in 2018 fiscal year

The Baltimore Orioles draw thousands of people to Sarasota for Spring Training games in March. Robert Hackney photo

Through the first six months of the 2019 fiscal year, Sarasota County’s “bed tax” revenue was down just $3,413.91, compared to the same period of the 2018 fiscal year, according to the March report from the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office.

Proceeds from the 5% Tourist Development Tax (TDT) imposed on rentals of accommodations for six or fewer months were up $76,273.85 for March, compared to the same month in 2018, the Tax Collector’s Office report shows.

The total for March was $4,146,362.33, while the March 2018 figure was $4,070,088.48.

Moreover, the latest figure for February collections marked a bigger year-over-year climb — a total of $131,785.44 — thanks to new data, the latest report indicates. The revised figure compares to the $42,624.04 year-over-year uptick noted in the previous report from Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates.

This is the latest Tourist Development Tax revenue report. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office

Both Ford-Coates and her staff members have explained on many occasions that audits and other enforcement actions can produce changes in the TDT figures from month to month.

Underscoring that even more, the latest total for December 2018 also has entered positive territory. The previous report showed collections for December down $1,382.41, compared to the total for December 2017. However, the March report says that the December 2018 collections actually were $4,142.08 higher than the total for December 2017.

Through March, TDT revenue stood at $13,819,285.84 for the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2018.

Taxes collected on Airbnb rentals accounted for $794,878.32 of that total, the report said.

As county commissioners have noted, widespread negative publicity about red tide last summer and well into last fall discouraged tourists from coming, even after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) began reporting that the red tide bloom was on the wane.

The last FWC red tide update released before The Sarasota News Leader’s publication deadline this week said the red tide algae, Karenia brevis, “was observed at background to very low concentrations in Sarasota County,” as well as in Charlotte and Lee counties, last week.

In terms of reporting by location countywide through March, accommodations in the city of Sarasota narrowly edged out those on Siesta Key. The latest TDT revenue data showed that collections in the city represented 29.65% of the total amount reported since the fiscal year began; the Siesta figure represented 29.38% of the total through March. For the past several years, Siesta accommodations have “won” the ranking for pulling in the most TDT revenue.

This is the latest report showing collections by location. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office

In her latest update to local government leaders, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, reported that March lodging occupancy rate was up 1.7% over the figure for March 2018, to 89.6%.

The average room rate dropped 3.1% for this March — to $241.79 — compared to the amount in March 2018, Haley added. Finally, the number of room nights sold in March grew by 6.3%, to 392,200, compared to the figure for March 2018, she wrote in a May 7 email.

Haley also pointed out that last week was National Travel & Tourism Week.

“Visit Sarasota County has reason to celebrate,” Haley continued. The previous month, its sales team succeeded in booking $1 million in meetings and group functions in the county, she wrote. “The policy decision to invest additional funds in our sales program is paying off!” she added.

Finally, Haley noted, 33,800 Sarasota residents have jobs that rely on tourism.