Collections down about 2%
For the third straight month since the 2019 fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2018, Sarasota County’s “bed tax” revenue has fallen in a year-over-year comparison, the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office has reported.
However, the decline for December 2018 was only about 2%. Visit Sarasota County President Virginia Haley had predicted in a Jan. 24 email to City and County of Sarasota leaders that the drop would be approximately 7.6%, based on negative repercussions of the national news and social media attention placed on red tide last summer.
For December 2018, the bed tax revenue totaled $1,797,960.36. That compared to $1,830,854.37 in December 2017, according to the Tax Collector’s Office.
The 5% bed tax — called the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) — is collected on rentals of accommodations for six months or less all across the county. The funds are allocated to a variety of initiatives, based on a formula approved by the County Commission. Funds go to beach renourishment and maintenance, promotion of the county as a tourist destination, and arts and cultural productions, among other uses.
Through Dec. 31, 2018, the TDT revenue is down $244,660.56, compared to the figure for the first three months of the 2018 fiscal year, the latest report says.
Additionally, as a result of audits and other enforcement actions, the Tax Collector’s Office has updated the October 2018 total, showing that it fell even more than originally indicated, compared to the total for October 2017.
In October 2018, the TDT collections added up to $997,874.97, which was a drop of $149,701.17, compared to the number for October 2017, the latest report says. In the previous Tax Collector’s Office report — reflecting data compiled through November 2018 — the October-to-October decline was noted as $134,926.64.
Conversely, the revised figure for November 2018 collections shows less of a fall than noted earlier. The new total for November 2018 showed a decline of $62,065.38 from the figure for November 2017. The previous report put the November-to-November drop at $74,092.83.
In her Jan. 24 email, Haley of Visit Sarasota County noted that the number of visitors to the county in December 2018 fell 20.7%, compared to the figure for December 2017. Additionally, she wrote, hotel occupancy dropped 15.1%.
However, she pointed out, “average daily hotel room rates held steady.”
In materials provided to the county’s Tourist Development Council in advance of its last meeting — held on Jan. 17 — Visit Sarasota County underscored the effects of red tide in its figures for the final quarter of the 2018 fiscal year.
In July 2018, the number of visitors for that month rose 1.9% year-over-year. Then photos of dead fish blanketing county beaches and the reddish-brown water in the Gulf of Mexico, plus reports about the respiratory irritation known locally as the “red tide cough,” made national headlines in August. As a result, the total number of tourists fell 6.2% year-over-year for that month. By September, the impact of the widespread media coverage had led to a drop of 23.2% for the total number of visitors, compared to the figure for September 2017.
In similar fashion, the Visit Sarasota County report showed, tourists’ spending for July 2018 rose 1.7%, compared to the figure for July 2017. In August, a year-over-year decline of 9.3% was recorded. For September 2018, the figure was down 22.4%, compared to the total for September 2017.
Hotel occupancy in Sarasota County fell 35.5% in September 2018, compared to the total for September 2017, the report pointed out. The average room rate that month was $135.63, a 12% decline compared to the room rate average for September 2017.
As Haley put it in an Oct. 29, 2018 letter to Nicole Rissler, then-interim director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, “Unfortunately, the impacts of the new hotel inventory combined with the red tide had a significant impact on the final quarter [of the 2018 fiscal year].”