A penny-on-the-dollar increase of the county's tourism tax shouldn't be construed as a hardship on Pasco's motels and hotels. The tax, approved by voters 19 years ago, is collected on overnight and short-term stays to fund Pasco's tourism promotions and attractions.
The tax, now at 2 percent, is proposed to increase to 3 percent. The Tourist Development Council, an advisory board to the County Commission, approved the increase on a split vote this week. Commissioners have the final say. If approved, the tax increase is expected to generate at least $370,000 annually, the proposed use for which is to promote Pasco as a destination for sports tourism.
Some hoteliers argue the tax increase would hurt business during a recession. We don't believe a small bump in the bed tax will put Pasco's motel and hotel industry at a competitive disadvantage. Even with the increase, the county will still charge less than neighboring Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk counties and will charge the same as Hernando and Citrus counties.
As Commissioner Pat Mulieri correctly stated, visitors check the price of the motel room, not the local bed tax ,when booking accommodations — and tourists have become accustomed to paying the surcharge elsewhere.
A more logical question is, why now? The county has collected the tax since 1991 with half the proceeds still bankrolled for construction of a tourist-related attraction. But Pasco has yet to break ground on the $7.9 million tennis stadium to be financed with tourist tax proceeds. The stadium planned for Wesley Chapel has been discussed for more than eight years and the agreements between Saddlebrook Resort, which would operate the facility, and Pasco, which would own it, were approved last summer.
Meanwhile, the second project — a proposed multipurpose sports complex — hasn't gained traction yet because of high costs associated with the company that had been the presumed private-sector partner: Big League Dreams of California, which builds ballfields replicating historic major league stadiums. This week, the tourist council recommended the county negotiate a deal with a second vendor. The site of such a sports complex has not been identified. Certainly, a bed tax increase would be easier to swallow in some quarters if the county could link it to a public project finished with its tourist money.
There is another motivation. An extra $370,000 in tourist tax revenue targeted for sports marketing would help (ever so slightly) to ease the county's financial crunch from Amendment 1 tax exemptions, falling property values and the recession. By luring regional and national sports tournaments to Pasco — whether youth soccer, adult softball, high school lacrosse or other competitions — the county can shift a portion of its parks and recreation maintenance costs to the tourist fund. Essentially, if it means those out-of-town visitors coming for a weekend tournament will help pay to maintain county sports fields.
It's a smart investment with a potential for consistent dividends. Backers of the national Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions lacrosse tournament in Wesley Chapel, for instance, estimate it generates 480 nights at area motels.
If Pasco is to become a more popular destination for amateur sporting events, it makes sense to ask the participants to share in the upkeep of facilities that helped draw them here.