Okaloosa County’s Board of County Commissioners approved an additional one percent tax on hotel stays, known colloquially as the ‘bed-tax’ at their meeting on Tuesday. County staff told the commission they estimate the tax hike on hotel stays will add another four to five million dollars to the Tourism Development Department’s budget annually.
Okaloosa County earned the ability to tack on an additional penny after meeting certain benchmarks placed by the state of Florida. Of the 14 counties that meet the requirements to add a sixth penny to the bed tax, 10 use it. The designation, known as the High Tourism Impact County, has total hotel revenues of more than $600 million during the previous calendar year – or a total of at least 18% of the county’s total taxable sales for the year.
Deputy County Administrator Craig Coffey told the commission before the vote that staff recommended the tax increase because it would not affect locals, help the county fund beach renourishment and artificial reef deployment, and spend money on capital improvements and public safety initiatives throughout the county.
It can also help after a hurricane, according to county staff. “Sarasota passed it this year,” said Coffey, “it will be big in helping them rebuild.”
After a referendum in 2021, the county can charge higher hotel tax in Niceville and Valparaiso – and use that money in our area as well to boost tourism.
According to the county staff’s understanding of the rules laid out by the state, the sixth-cent revenues brought in from hotels throughout the county can be used on the following:
No one from the public came to the meeting to give an opinion either for or against the increase of the tax – Commissioners Goodwin, Ketchel, Boyles and Ponder spoke positively about the tax, how it is collected and how it is used.
“I’m glad to see this coming forward,” said commissioner Trey Goodwin, “This is something that I’ve been fighting for for a while. It is going to better the area for our tourists. But, it is also going to better out community for our residents.”
Goodwin said it represented a departure from the previous way of thinking about tourism in Okaloosa County.
“When I was running for the first time, back in 2013, I would have never believed [a sixth-cent] would have been embraced in Okaloosa County. As a matter of fact, most of the people I met said, ‘if you get in office, make sure you get rid of the TDD.’ But I think there is more of a concept of ‘let’s embrace what we have, build on it and make it better for those of us who live here,” said Goodwin.
While he decided to vote in favor of the sixth cent, Commissioner Nathan Boyles voiced some reticence with the way the money has been used in the past. “I’m going to harp for just a moment on the notion that – [the sixth-cent] doesn’t alleviate our responsibility to ensure that we are spending as wisely as possible. Specifically on the conference center,” Boyles said. Boyles has remained a long-standing critic of the Emerald Coast Convention Center, which will typically spend more money in a budget year than it brings in for Okaloosa County. He referenced the more than $2 million annually which is budgeted for the maintenance and upkeep of the convention center – “I think citizens will expect us to revisit that issue and, if there are tweaks to be made, make those tweaks. [They] expect us to spend these dollars certainly better than what they may see or perceive specific to the conference center.”
The measure passed unanimously.
Total amount collected in 2021: $37,576,034.
The 2022 allocations of the money generated from hotel stays:
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