Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano recently suggested Pasco’s advisory board on tourism deserved a larger role in guiding the county’s plans to draw overnight visitors here. The Tourist Development Council offered a rebuke this week, effectively telling commissioners to stop wasting their time.
The message came as the TDC considered — again — a multiyear plan to boost tourism. The commission kicked the document back to its advisory panel last month after failing to achieve a four-vote super majority to approve a penny-on-the-dollar increase in the bed tax to finance the plan’s components.
Though no formal vote was taken in February, Commissioner Ted Schrader said he did not want to raise the tax on overnight accommodations from 2 percent to 3 percent and suggested tapping capital reserves to finance broader marketing initiatives. It’s an ill-conceived and short-sighted idea that can only lead to long-term financial problems in other tourism-related accounts. Meanwhile, Mariano, who previously supported the tax increase, balked at approving the tax because the multiyear plan included marketing a new softball complex in Trinity that he opposes.
Without the added tax proceeds, commissioners asked the advisory board to reconsider the tourism plan and to recalculate its spending recommendations. Instead, the TDC voted 6-1 Wednesday to reaffirm its support for the tax increase, which is projected to raise an additional $370,000 annually. We trust Mariano will give serious consideration to the panel’s recommendations.
Phil Bell, athletic director for the Pasco School District and a TDC member, called it embarrassing that the county wouldn’t support bumping the tourist tax.
But there has been no shortage of embarrassing episodes as attested to by Mariano’s attempts to hold the tax increase hostage because of a parochial push to develop sports fields in his Hudson-based district.
A 3 percent tourist tax rate matches the charge in Hernando and Citrus counties and is less than the 5 percent tourist tax charged in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk counties. Pasco County can decide it wants to try to level the playing field with its neighboring counties when competing for visitors or it can lament an inability to boost commerce for motels, restaurants and shops that rely on tourists’ spending.
The Tourist Development Council made a sound recommendation, but it is the commission that must heed the advice.