By Nathan Sparks, CEcD
Looking back on a very successful summer for our friends in the hospitality and tourism sector, it is safe to say that Okaloosa County would not be the wonderful community we all know it to be today without the significant economic impact generated by visitors. It is already well documented that tourism directly supports countless jobs and numerous small businesses in our area – not to mention the fact that the sales tax activity generated by visitors provides much needed funding for our schools and roads. Speaking of tourism, I would like to focus this month’s column on a subject that is currently topping the list of public discourse in our fair corner of the world – the proposed Tourist Development Taxing District expansion. One Okaloosa’s Business Leadership Council was recently treated to an insightful presentation on this topic, and I wanted to pass along some of the “nuggets” for your consideration as you contemplate your vote in Okaloosa County’s first ever mail-in ballot referendum.
Here are some items worth considering:
• The Tourism Development Tax – also known as the “Bed Tax” – is the tax that locals don’t pay. Only those staying in short-term lodging and rentals pay tourist development taxes, and the tax is paid in addition to sales tax. Chances are, if you have taken a vacation recently and stayed in a hotel or condo, you contributed to another community by paying their version of the tourist development tax.
• At present, Okaloosa’s tourist development taxing district only includes Destin, Okaloosa Island, Fort Walton Beach, Mary Esther and Cinco Bayou.
• If countywide expansion of the tourism taxing district is approved by voters, nearly 3,000 existing lodging units in places like Niceville and Crestview would be added to the district.
• Tourism Tax dollars collected from visitors to these properties could then be utilized to benefit areas of our County that currently rely solely on sales tax and property tax as a funding source for important community amenities like parks and boat ramps.
• The current amount of tourism development tax assessed in Okaloosa County is five pennies on the dollar. Visit Destin-Fort Walton Beach has identified a very specific purpose for each of these pennies, ranging from improving parks, beaches and waterways, to tourism promotion, to beach safety – benefiting locals and tourists alike.
• Remarkably, Okaloosa is one of only four of Florida’s 67 counties that don’t currently have a countywide tourist development taxing district.
Pretty compelling information in my book, and yet another opportunity to capitalize on the tourist activity that is already occurring by collecting revenues for projects that benefit EVERYONE. Please keep an eye out for your mail-in ballots and remember, all ballots must be returned by 7pm on October 5!