Friday, June 22, 2018
News Roundup

No plans to raise Pinellas bed tax any time soon

CLEARWATER — By bringing in more than $30 million last year in bed taxes, Pinellas County earned the right to raise that tax from 5 percent to 6 percent.

But don't look for that to happen any time soon.

The Pinellas County and Tourist Development commissions — which jointly oversee the tax on hotel and motel stays — squelched any talk Tuesday of raising the levy now.

TDC commissioner Tony Satterfield, a St. Pete Beach hotel executive, noted that Pinellas County will vote this year on a tax hike to pay for light rail and expanded bus service. That would boost an existing 7 percent sales tax to 8 percent. That, plus a 6 percent bed tax, would give Pinellas hotels one of the highest tax burdens in the state.

"New York City kept adding and adding and adding (to hotel taxes) until all of a sudden they were losing conventions,'' Satterfield said. "We could wake up and suddenly have gone from 12 to 14" percent if the bed tax and sales tax both go up a percent.

County Commissioner Karen Seel noted that the group already is trying to figure out how to dole out about $6 million in annual bed tax revenue that will become available in 2015 when the main bonds on Tropicana Field expire.

"I would be hard-pressed to put a 6 percent in place when we are having trouble deciding what to do with the $6 million,'' Seel said.

Several competing interests already hope to float long-term construction bonds by using some of the Trop money as backing, including the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the city of Dunedin, which wants spring training upgrades for the Toronto Blue Jays, and Oldsmar, which wants to build an Olympic BMX track.

The bed tax commissioners took no formal vote but agreed to work toward a tentative plan that would set aside about $4.5 million a year for new capital projects from the Trop money. That would save about $1.5 million for tourist marketing and reserves.

Potential projects — including any new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays — would have to compete for funding, using a scoring system yet to be determined.

Oldsmar had planned to request $1.1 million for its BMX project at Tuesday's meeting but the discussion was tabled until the Florida Legislature votes on bills that might help fund the project.

Times staff writer Piper Castillo contributed to this report.

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