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Pasco commissioners back "bed tax" hike for hotel stays

DADE CITY — On Monday, Pasco County commissioners learned plans to build a $7.9-million tennis stadium with tourist tax dollars had collapsed after their private partner walked away from the deal.

On Tuesday, they voted 4-1 to move forward with a plan to raise that tax.

The vote had been scheduled before Saddlebrook Resort, which was supposed to operate the stadium, notified Pasco officials Monday that it had dropped out of the project over problems with the terms of its contract with the county.

Commissioner Ann Hilde­brand said Tuesday that the irony of the timing was not lost on her.

"What we squirreled away (for) is no longer to be," she said.

Still, she and three of her colleagues supported moving forward with the proposal to raise the tourist or "bed" tax — a surcharge on hotel stays — to 3 percent from 2 percent.

Pasco officials say the 2 percent tax, which funded this fiscal year's tourism budget of $790,000, is expected to bring in only $740,000 in 2009-10. Officials project that the percentage increase would bring in an extra $400,000.

The increase puts Pasco more in line with surrounding counties. Citrus and Hernando counties also charge 3 percent; Pinellas and Hillsborough counties each charge 5 percent.

Commissioner Pat Mulieri said the additional revenue could help support sponsorships for some of the larger sporting events, many of which have lost corporate sponsors amid the economic downturn.

She said the proposed increase was not burdensome.

"I don't think it'll be prohibitive," she said. "I don't think people will stop coming."

Chairman Jack Mariano said the smaller, parent-run events could benefit from the extra funds, too. He said those volunteers, for instance, have to come up with hundreds of dollars to fix athletic fields.

"Why not let the people staying in the motels pay the parks bill?" he said.

Commissioner Ted Schrader cast the dissenting vote, saying the recession made the timing bad. He said he thought there may be other ways to raise additional revenue, including doing a better job of collecting the tax from short-term rentals.

"In these economic times, I'm just uncomfortable supporting it," he said.

Pasco tourism officials will now prepare a draft plan and amendment to increase the bed tax. Commissioners will vote on it Aug. 11 and hold a public hearing Sept. 9.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Commission notes

In other business

• Agreed to move ahead with a plan to require new homes be strengthened with additional rebar. Officials hope the proposed change to the building code could help lower insurance rates in Pasco, which has a large number of sinkhole claims. Elizabeth Blair, an assistant county attorney, said homes built up to the new standard would be test cases for the insurance companies. The requirement would add about $500 to the cost of a single-family home, according to the county. The issue comes back before the commission on June 9.

• Agreed to look into easing the countywide ban on street parking in certain subdivisions. Lake Bernadette residents had complained that cars are jutting out from driveways and blocking sidewalks, making passage difficult for pedestrians, especially those who are elderly and disabled. Commissioners asked staff members to come up with proposals for a few subdivisions to allow on-street parking.

Pasco commissioners back "bed tax" hike for hotel stays 05/12/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 9:07pm]
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