February marks second month this fiscal year with ‘bed tax’ revenue surpassing $5-million mark

January and February both have set records in 2023 fiscal year

 For the second month in a row, Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” — revenue has set a record, as shown in the latest reports released by Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff.

The total amount of funds turned over to Ford-Coates’ staff in February was $5,882,593.49, which exceeded the February 2022 figure by $1,119,546.99, the new documents note. That is the first time that the February revenue has climbed above the $5-million mark.

The January total — $5,801,833.54 — also set a record, for the same reason.

Additionally, the February amount is 23.5% higher than the $4,763,046.50 that the Tax Collector’s Office received in February 2022 from the entities that collect the tax.

Altogether, through the first five months of the 2023 fiscal year — which began on Oct. 1, 2022 — the Tax Collector’s Office has received $22,323,240.82 in bed tax revenue, the new charts show. That is more than half of the record-setting amount that Ford-Coates and her staff collected by the end of the 2022 fiscal year: $40,304,675.82. Further, that amount is approximately 37% higher than the total collected through the first five months of the 2022 fiscal year, which was $16,286,660.58.

The 6% tax is collected on rentals of accommodations countywide for six months or less time. The tax previously was 5%; it rose to 6% on Oct. 1, 2022, thanks to a County Commission vote last year.

The Tourist Development Tax revenue is used for a variety of purposes — from beach maintenance to upkeep of the two Major League Baseball Spring Training stadiums in the county to the promotion of the county to visitors. Funds also are allocated to the Town of Longboat Key and to the Cities of Sarasota and Venice for beach renourishment projects.

During the commission’s first workshop on its 2024 fiscal year budget, conducted on March 22, Kim Radtke, director of the Office of Financial Management, pointed out that the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) funds for the 2022 fiscal year ended up about 79% higher than staff had projected for the fiscal year. That was by far the highest jump in any of the major revenue sources for the county, compared to what staff had anticipated, as made clear in the unaudited records she showed the board members.

Another facet of the latest reports is that Airbnb has turned over to Ford-Coates and her staff $3,121,669 for the first five months of this fiscal year. That amount is nearly 58% higher than the figure for the first five months of the 2022 fiscal year: $1,976,393.69.

Altogether, the TDT revenue generated by accommodations rented through online platforms — including those associated with TripAdvisor and HomeAway and their subsidiaries — made up 21.72% of the county’s total through February, another report shows.

For years, as The Sarasota News Leader has pointed out, the City of Sarasota and Siesta Key have waged a figurative battle over which will be able to generate the highest amount of TDT revenue in a given fiscal year. Siesta traditionally prevailed, but the City of Sarasota “won” in 2022.

Through February, the city remains in the lead, with 26.56% of the revenue, while Siesta Key entities that collect the bed tax have turned over to the Tax Collector’s Office 22.29% of the total.

Thus, the online platform rentals are in third place in terms of revenue generated through February.

Through February of the 2022 fiscal year, the funds generated by the online platform rentals represented 19.8% of the total. At that point, the City of Sarasota was at the 27.28% mark, with Siesta in second place, at 24.02%.

Although the contract that county staff forged with Airbnb allows it to report the amount of money each month that its hosts have collected, the contracts with the other platforms forbid the Tax Collector’s Office from citing a specific figure.

Among other details of the latest reports, the News Leader once again found higher month-over-month increases than initially shown. Ford-Coates and her staff have explained that audits and other enforcement actions produce such changes.

For example, the initial report for the January TDT revenue said the funds were higher than those turned over in January 2022 by $1,122,285.53. The new reports show that month-over-month uptick was $1,364,887.58. Thus, the revised figure is about 22% higher than the initial number.

For another example, the total revenue for December 2022 added up to $794,814.78 in the prior report. The month-over-month uptick in the new report is $817,761.85, which is close to being 3% higher than the earlier figure.

In its report for February, based on data collected on its behalf by the Downs & St. Germain Research firm in Tallahassee, Visit Sarasota County noted that the number of visitors to the county in February was 122,000, which marked a 4.2% drop, compared to the figure for February 2022. However, their direct expenditures rose 6.5%, month-over-month, to $191,861,600.

Conversely, the occupancy rate for accommodations this February was down 1.8% — to 86% — compared to the February 2022 figure.

The average room rate did rise 3.1%, the report noted, to $303.86.

However, the number of room nights sold was down 0.1%, to 343,100, compared to the total for February 2022.

Among other details of the Visit Sarasota County report, it said that property managers “were less optimistic” about the number of visitors they would serve in the next three months. Only 23% of them expected an increase in the number of reservations, the report added; 50% anticipated a decrease.