Pasco commission likely to double tourism tax
DADE CITY - Pasco County commissioners appear poised to double the county's tourism tax. "I would like to have that tourism tax raised," Commissioner Henry Wilson said. "We're missing out on $1 million a year." Florida law allows counties to charge up to 5 percent on hotel and motel stays and short-term occupancies, such as timeshares and vacation rentals. Pasco County has never raised its 2 percent tax since enacting it in 1991. Tourism Director Eric Keaton said an increase in tourist tax dollars would allow the county to raise its marketing budget in two key growth areas: film and international tourism."Overseas visitors stay longer and spend more money," Keaton said. He wants to travel to Canada and the Netherlands to promote Pasco County as an international destination. The county's decision to approve a marketing grant for the Pasco Area Naturist Development Association, or PANDA, already paid dividends. "We had a high contingency of visitors from the Netherlands and Belgium because of our coordination with PANDA for naturist tourism," he said. Last year, bed tax collections amounted to $822,206, a 19 percent increase over 2011 and second only to 2008. But Keaton said Pasco still lags behind other Florida counties in tourism spending. "We do a pretty good job, but we only have two people," Keaton said. "Pinellas County has 33 people on staff. Hillsborough County has 22. We need more help." The additional funds also would allow the county to expand the fishing pier at Anclote River Park and install digital kiosks at hotels, government buildings and interstate rest stops. Commissioner Kathryn Starkey offered a few suggestions, such as offering shuttle service to Anclote Key. "I'd love to see us using our beach a little better," she said. Starkey also suggested partnering with the German-American Chamber of Commerce, which has its office in Odessa, to launch an Oktoberfest event that would celebrate local craft beer brewers. Commissioners will hold a joint meeting with the county's Tourist Development Council on Feb. 26. County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said the board needs to hold a public hearing before voting to raise the tourism tax. "We need to have a discussion," Wilson said. "But we're in budget talks now, and we need to let our staff know that if we want to talk the talk we need to walk the walk."
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