‘Bed tax’ revenue takes a negative turn for June

County’s tourism office had cautioned that memories of red tide in 2018 might lead to fewer visitors this summer

Savor Sarasota is a Visit Sarasota County campaign to encourage people to visit restaurants in June. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

After four months of increases, Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT) — or “bed tax” — revenue took a negative turn for the month of June, the latest Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office report shows.

The revenue collected for June was $1,802,707.69, compared to a total of $1,880,817.48 in June 2018, the report says. That was a drop of $78,109.79 for the month.

Still, because of month-over-month increases for five months of this fiscal year so far, the total TDT revenue through June was up $218,448.25, compared to the same period of the 2018 fiscal year.

Each fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

Overall, revenue through June was $19,529,946.43, the Tax Collector’s Office reported. For the past several years, the county has recorded increases in its TDT collections, which pay for a wide variety of tourism-related initiatives, including beach renourishment and maintenance.

In a May 31 update for local government leaders, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, reported that her staff’s spot checks of accommodations outlooks’ showed softer projections for the summer months in the county. Last year, the effects of the red tide bloom offshore began worsening in the summer, with conditions deteriorating dramatically the first week of August. Fish kills and the red tide algae’s aerosols, which produce respiratory irritation, drove visitors away from the county’s shoreline.

In its latest red tide status update — issued Aug. 9 — the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) — wrote that in Southwest Florida over the past week, the red tide algae, Karenia brevis, “was observed at background concentrations in one sample from Pinellas County.”

Over the past several months, the algae has been detected at no level higher than a “background” presence in Sarasota County, FWC has noted.

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

The Visit Sarasota County report for June, which county Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant related to The Sarasota News Leader this week, said the number of visitors staying in paid lodging in Sarasota County in June fell 9.4%, to 99,300, and their direct expenditures dropped by 9.2%, to $81,663,300, compared to the figures for June 2018.

Lodging occupancy fell by 7.1%, to 63.8%, the report continued, adding that room rates declined by 3.8% to an average of $157.19.

The number of rooms sold dropped by 7.1%, to 211,500, the Visit Sarasota County report said.

The Tax Collectors Office report on the Tourist Development Tax revenue did note some positive refinements of figures for earlier months in the fiscal year. For example, the report through May showed that January’s collections were down $13,631.81, compared to the total for January 2018. However, as a result of audits and other actions, that month-over-month deficit has been reduced to $3,312.59 in the June report.

Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff have explained to the county’s Tourist Development Council that it is not uncommon for figures to change as the fiscal year goes on. Ford-Coates has praised her staff members on multiple occasions for their diligence in research to ensure that all property owners who rent out accommodations file their tax collections with the county each month.

The 5% Tourist Development Tax is charged on accommodations rented for six or fewer months.

Another positive change in the June report is the amount of revenue collected for May. The total was $74,602.69 higher than the amount collected in May 2018.

The initial report for May put the month-over-month increase at $51,146.72.

The June report also shows that the county has collected $1,236,950.75 from Airbnb hosts since Oct. 1, 2018.

This is the latest Tourist Development Tax report by location. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

As for location reporting: Accommodations in the city of Sarasota continue to outpace those on Siesta Key, although the latter are approaching the city’s level. Traditionally, Siesta Key has surpassed the city by the time the final percentages are recorded.

As of the end of June, city of Sarasota accommodations had collected 30.11% of the total amount of TDT revenue for the fiscal year, with Siesta at the 30.02% mark.