County Commission approves increase following formal hearing this week
It took just a couple of minutes on April 26 for the Sarasota County Commission to vote 4-1 to approve the levying of a sixth penny of its Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” — on rentals of accommodations in the county for six months or less time.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler cast the “No” vote.
The increase of the tax from 5% to 6% will begin on Oct. 1, which will mark the start of the 2023 fiscal year, Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, has pointed out.
Staff has proposed that 70% of the proceeds from that additional penny be dedicated to the construction of new public buildings, with 20% dedicated to beach maintenance and the final 10% allocated to beach renourishment.
As Radtke pointed out to the county’s Tourist Development Council in March, beach renourishment initiatives have grown more and more expensive. Therefore, county staff long has pursued the practice of building up its beach renourishment funds before pursuing such an undertaking.
Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown and city commissioners have talked about the potential of asking the County Commission for funds from the capital proceeds in the future, to help pay for a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in The Bay Park on the city’s waterfront. That facility has been estimated to cost up to $350 million, with the City Commission having committed to paying for half of the expense.
Before making the April 26 motion to approve the additional penny, County Commissioner Nancy Detert did ask Radtke for clarification about language in the county staff memo regarding the agenda item, which was included in the board’s meeting packet.
That memo noted that the county realized $682,939,395 “of transient rental facilities taxable sales for calendar year ending on December 31, 2021.” “Transient accommodations” is the county term for hotel and motel rooms and other visitor accommodations, such as condominiums.
The memo added that, with that level of revenue, the county “met the threshold” for designation as a “high tourism impact county” and was eligible to implement a sixth penny. The Florida Department of Revenue certified that status on March 7, the memo said.
What seemed confusing, Detert indicated, is that the county’s Tourist Development Tax revenue totaled slightly more than $31 million for the 2021 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, 2021.
The $30-million figure pertained to “the collection of the actual revenue by the Tax Collector,” Radtke told Detert.
After Detert made the motion to approve the sixth penny of the tax, Commissioner Ron Cutsinger seconded it.
Detert then noted that the Tourist Development Council, which she chairs, voted unanimously in March to recommend that the County Commission raise the tax. That council includes hoteliers and others who will be affected directly by the higher levy, she added.
When Chair Alan Maio called for the vote, Commissioner Ziegler said, “No.”
A supermajority vote of the commission — four out of five votes — was necessary for the tax to be levied, the county staff memo explained.
Ziegler has pointed out on several occasions over the past year that, when he ran for the District 2 board seat in 2018, he vowed not to raise taxes for his constituents.