Sarasota County seeking state certification for designation as ‘high tourism impact county,’ which would allow it to charge a 6% ‘bed tax’

County Commission approves staff plans to request updated status from Florida Department of Revenue

This graphic shows some of the uses of the county ‘bed tax’ revenue. Image courtesy Sarasota County

If Sarasota County staff is successful in the case it will make to state officials, the county in coming months will be able to start charging a sixth penny of Tourist Development Tax (TDT).

Also known as the “bed tax,” it is levied on accommodations rented for six months or less time. Proceeds are used for a wide variety of initiatives — from public beach maintenance to financial support for the nonprofit organization that manages Nathan Benderson Park (the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, or SANCA), upkeep at the two Major League Baseball Spring Training facilities, in Sarasota and near Wellen Park in the area of Venice and North Port, and promoting the county to tourists.

On Jan. 11, in approving their Consent Agenda of routine business items, the county commissioners formally authorized County Administrator Jonathan Lewis “to proceed with requesting certification for ‘high tourism impact county’ designation from the Florida Department of Revenue, once taxable sales reported by transient rental facilities reach $600,000,000,” as a county staff memo explained it.

“A county is considered a ‘high tourism impact county’ if taxable sales of short-term lodging exceed $600 million in a calendar year,” the memo added. “The latest State estimates for Sarasota County project $641 million of transient rental facilities taxable sales for the State fiscal year ending June 30, 2022,” the memo said.

“Transient rental facilities” refers to tourist accommodations, which include not only hotels and motels but also private homes advertised through online platforms such as Airbnb. Owners of the latter properties have to collect the Tourist Development Tax funds and turn them over to the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office each month.

“County projections have Sarasota County meeting the threshold (even with conservative projections) in the year ending December 2021,” the staff memo pointed out.

Once the county has qualified for levying the extra penny of Tourist Development Tax, the memo said, the County Commission can approve an ordinance amending the Tourist Development Plan, which is Section 114-64 of the Sarasota County Municipal Code.

This is the opening section of the county’s Tourist Development Plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“The authorized uses of proceeds from the additional levy,” the memo explained, would remain the same as they are for the first three levies, which include allowances for debt service.

Only eight counties charge a 6% Tourist Development Tax, according to a Sarasota News Leader review of charts posted on the Department of Revenue’s website on Feb. 3. Among them are Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties.

These are the Florida Department of Revenue charts showing the amount of Tourist Development Tax levied per county. Image courtesy State of Florida

As the News Leader reported late last fall, the county set another record for TDT revenue in the 2021 fiscal year. The initial report from Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates put the total at $30,956,783.90. The figure was up to $31,032,649.21 in the latest report from Ford-Coates’ staff, which was released in early January. Ford-Coates and her staff have explained that audits and other enforcement actions can lead to revisions in figures in the reports from month to month.

Although the TDT revenue was lower in the 2020 fiscal year because of the pandemic, the totals had been reaching new fiscal year highs for more than a decade prior to that fiscal year.

This is a history of the Tourist Development Tax in Sarasota County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Jan. 11 staff memo noted that, as of the time it was prepared for the board members, county staff had not engaged in any outreach activities related to the request for the state certification. “However,” the memo added, “the appropriate advisory councils, the Tourist Development Council and other key partners would be included in the future.”

The Tourist Development Council has a number of representatives of businesses involved in tourism or the hospitality industry. It also has members from each of the municipalities in the county, which receive a share of the TDT revenue each year.