BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners will consider a 2-cent increase in the county's tourist tax in order to beef up marketing efforts and cover the rising costs of tourism development.
Tammy Heon, the county's tourism development coordinator, made a pitch to commissioners this week for raising the tax to 5 cents on the dollar.
Last month, Heon came before the commission and proposed letting the lease lapse on the storefront visitors center on Cortez Boulevard near Interstate 75. Not enough people were stopping at the office, deciding to stay in Hernando and generating tourism tax revenue.
Heon said she had other marketing priorities, but limited funds, so something had to give.
Business leaders, however, rallied to support keeping the office open, noting that the interstate interchange is the traditional gateway to Hernando County. Commissioners asked Heon to bring back more information.
On Tuesday, she told commissioners she could not find another site near the interstate for the tourism office and it would stay put, realizing how important tourism and economic development are to the county.
The Tourist Development Council has since voted to recommend the increase in the so-called "bed tax." The tax is levied on visitors staying in overnight and short-term lodging accommodations in the county. Each extra cent would raise approximately $130,000 in revenue per year.
Heon noted that, while increasing taxes is never popular, it is visitors who pay the bed tax and the county and tourism businesses that reap the rewards.
Hernando's tourist tax has been 3 cents since 1998.
The tax in Citrus County is also 3 cents, and it is 2 cents in Pasco and Sumter. But Heon said both Pasco and Citrus are considering increasing their tax to 4 cents.
"Just to hold our ground we must increase our revenues and our efforts,'' she said.
She described improved marketing she would like to be able to do, such as advertising fishing opportunities year-round instead of just during tarpon and scalloping seasons. And rather than just promoting birding for the annual Nature Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, "we really need to target year-round,'' she said.
Extra revenue also could help the tourism development office bring back the popular program of providing grant money for special events, increase the number of signs and billboards advertising Hernando's assets and beef up digital advertising. Creating a comprehensive visitors guide, adding website content and promoting agritourism are among the office's other plans, Heon said.
Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he supported the 2-cent increase in the bed tax because the dollars allow the county to bring in more revenue by bringing in more people.
Commissioner Diane Rowden agreed.
"We're behind the curve,'' she said. "We need to invest more in tourism.''
A public hearing and formal vote will be scheduled for a future commission meeting.