County’s Tourist Development Tax collections up slightly in March over number for same month in 2016

Overall revenue continues to lag behind, compared to the first six months of the previous fiscal year

Via Twitter, Visit Sarasota County is encouraging people to visit the county this summer. Image from Visit Sarasota County

After three months of declines, Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue was back in positive territory for the month of March — but barely.

The figures the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office released this week show collections for March were higher this year by $1,245.59, compared to the March 2016 figure.

The report was dated April 30.

Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates pointed out to the county’s Tourist Development Council this spring that March 2016 was the only month with a total that broke the $3-million mark in the past fiscal year.

As of the April 30 TDT report, entities that collect the 5% “bed tax” had turned in $3,387,789.21 for March, the Tax Collector’s office records show. The total for March 2016 was $3,386,543.62.

However, overall collections are down $132,385.61, compared to the same period in the 2016 fiscal year.

Visit Sarasota County research data for March found the number of visitors up slightly — 0.5% — compared to the figure for March 2016, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, notified community leaders in a May 4 email.

The report through April 30 shows the continuing deficit compared to the overall total for the same period last fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office

That increase came in spite of a slight drop in occupancy, Haley added: 92.9% in 2017 compared to 93.7% in March 2016.

“This is due to an increase in the … hotel room inventory,” she wrote.

The average daily room rate fell 3.7% from $266.88 in March 2016 to 256.94 in March of this year, she added.

“We expect to have flat TDT collections for March,” she noted in advance of the Tax Collector’s Office report.

“Domestic visitation continues to be a real bright spot and a reflection of our advertising strategy,” Haley continued. Visit Sarasota County research found a 3.9% increase in the number of tourists from the Northeast, “where we concentrated our campaign,” she wrote.

“In general, the demand for hotel rooms is outpacing condo rental demand,” Haley added.

The latest TDT figures do show a higher revised figure for each month’s collection thus far in the fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2016. Ford-Coates’ staff has explained that updates are common as the year goes on, because all the entities that collect the tax have to report their figures by a specific date. Subsequently, more thorough accounting and business audits often produce new numbers.

The biggest change in collections shown in the April 30 report is for the month of February. The March report showed collections were down $108,338.22 year-over-year. However, in the April data, the year-over-year drop is $38,813.80.

The smallest change came in the revised figure for October 2016, with the latest number proving to be $365 higher than the figure in the March report. The April data shows the collections in October 2016 were $30,023.85 higher than those in October 2015.

Once again, Siesta Key was in the lead for the percentage of collections reported to the Tax Collector’s Office. Siesta’s total of $3,787,059.81 for the fiscal year through March represented 31.62% of the county total. The city of Sarasota was in second place, with 29.73%.

Siesta Key once again is in the lead, the location report shows. Image courtesy Tax Collector’s Office

In spite of the lag in TDT collections year-over-year, county staff last month reported a 3.4% increase compared to the total it had projected for the first six months of the fiscal year. That was the information Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, gave the County Commission during a mid-year review of county finances on April 26.

A chart Radtke provided the board showed staff had estimated TDT collections as of mid-year would be $7,641,093, whereas the total was $7,898,113. The latter number actually ended up being considerably lower than the figure Ford-Coates’ staff released for those first six months. That figure — as of the April 30 report — was $11,978,437.22. That is almost 57% higher than the county staff estimate.

Commissioners consistently point to Office of Financial Management staff’s conservative figures in budget preparation.