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Pasco County officials study increasing tourist tax by 1 percent

Tourists could be called on to help fill Pasco County coffers next year as officials consider increasing the bed tax, which now is the lowest in the Tampa Bay area.

Those who sleep over at Pasco hotels now have an extra 2 percent of the price tacked onto their bills. County staff is recommending that be increased to 3 percent. The tax also covers those who stay in a rental unit for six months or less.

The tax "promotes Pasco County as a sports and travel destination," county public communications manager Eric Keaton said in a memo to Tourist Development Council members, who are set to discuss a possible increase at their meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Pasco Historic Courthouse in Dade City.

The council can make recommendations, though county commissioners have the final say. Commissioners decided at the April 7 meeting to ask the tourism council to weigh in before making a decision.

County officials say the 2 percent tax, which funded this fiscal year's budget of $790,000, is expected to bring in only $740,000 in 2009-10.

A 1 percent increase is expected to bring in additional revenues of $370,000 to $400,000 for a budget of $1.1 million, the county says, citing projections from the state's Committee on Tourism and Trade.

"The 1 percent increase in the 'bed tax' will fund additional marketing opportunities for the County, add to the current economic tourism impact of more than $91 million and will only be funded by users of the service," Keaton's memo said in making the case for the increase.

The increase would put Pasco at the same level as Citrus and Hernando counties; Pinellas and Hillsborough counties each charge 5 percent.

Keaton said that while tourism is down as a result of the recession, it will eventually rebound and two new properties, a tennis stadium built to draw national tournaments and a regional sports complex, would result in more overnight stays.

Resort owners offered mixed reviews.

Angye Fox, spokeswoman for Caliente, a clothing-optional resort in Land O'Lakes, said the number of visitors increased 14 percent during the fourth quarter of 2008 over the same period the year before. First-quarter results also were up 14 percent.

"People are looking for an escape," she said, adding that some nudists who might normally go to Europe are opting to stay closer to home during the downturn. She said she doesn't think an extra 1 percent bed tax would deter visitors.

"If we were the Holiday Inn, it might be a different story."

Tom Dempsey, chairman and chief executive of Saddlebrook Resort, took a much more dim view.

"I can't think of anything dumber to do in this economy than that," said Dempsey, whose company has been mired in negotiations for years to run the tennis center. "It's not going to change anything."

Dempsey wouldn't give figures but said business is "significantly down" at his Wesley Chapel resort.

"Businesses have a budget, and taxes get taken out of that," he said.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Pasco County officials study increasing tourist tax by 1 percent 04/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 20, 2009 9:14pm]
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