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Pinellas County plans to cut tourism budget by $2 million

Pinellas County plans to cut $2 million, or about 10 percent, from its tourism marketing efforts this year to make up for a sharp decline in lodging tax revenues.

Collections from the 5 percent "bed tax" started dropping below previous-year levels last fall as the recession caused tourists and businesses to cut back on travel nationwide. Tax revenues are expected to fall 8.5 percent short of the budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, county officials told the Tourist Development Council, or TDC, on Wednesday.

More than half the cuts, about $1.2 million, will come from advertising, the biggest tourism marketing expense. Tourism director D.T. Minich said his department will put off some expenditures, such as the annual visitor guide, until the following year.

Other cuts include closing a one-person sales office in Canada, leaving open two positions in the county's tourism department and cutting two of the current 34 staff positions, he said. County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the budget reductions March 17.

The TDC budgeted nearly $30 million in bed tax revenues for the current year. One-third of collections are committed to pay for beach renourishment, fees to the county tax collector and debt service on Tropicana Field and spring training stadiums in Clearwater and Dunedin.

Bed tax revenues in Hills­borough County are down 8 percent over the past four months from a year earlier. Tampa Bay & Co., a tourism marketing agency paid by the county from tax collections, is cutting back on travel and advertising, said Steve Hayes, executive vice president.

"We're evaluating on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to save dollars," he said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Pinellas County plans to cut tourism budget by $2 million 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 11:23pm]

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