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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Legislators not helpful on tourist tax issue



ST. PETE BEACH - The bed tax issue just won't go away - as beach officials continue to express displeasure on how Pinellas County spends little of the money raised from tourists for beach  projects.

Tuesday, the city commission tackled two state legislators who had  come to report on this year's State Legislature.

Commissioner Jim Parent asked if part of the tax levied on tourist-related lodging could be sent back to the beach communities "to help out all the small towns that are struggling in terms of revenues".

Rep. Jim Frishe did not answer, instead touted how re-routing some of the tourist tax to in-state advertising "helped the local economy dramatically".

Commissioner Christopher Leonard later described the "level of frustration" among residents who resent paying some 20 percent of all tourist taxes collected in the county.

"We really are a donor city," said Leonard. "We haven't received our  fair share for all these years."

He asked what the beach cities could do to "get back" more of the tourist tax revenues.

Last year, the 5 percent bed tax generated $26.3-million in revenues with $5.4 million collected in St. Pete Beach and Tierra Verde alone.  Some of that money is returned to the city for beach renourishment, 
but most is spent for tourism advertising.

"I believe the bed tax is going to expire before too long," State 
Sen. Dennis Jones told the commission. "I certainly think it should  be extended. I recommend you donor cities look at suggesting (to the Legislative Delegation) a better way to move forward."

There is one major problem with that recommendation, however.

There is no expiration date on the tourist tax, except for the 
portion that is dedicated to paying off debts for Tropicana Field and  spring training stadiums in Clearwater and Dunedin -- and that  doesn't expire until 2015.

The underlying state law and county ordinances governing the tourist  tax have no expiration date, according to Chief Assistant County  Attorney Dennis Long.

-- Sheila Mullane Estrada, Times Correspondent

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:59am]


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