In 27 Florida counties, tourists and other short-term visitors pay a few extra dollars for their lodging, money that enables the local governments to attract more tourists with new and improved amenities. In Citrus County, that may mean a new public boat ramp to allow access to the popular scallop beds. In St. Lucie County, the so-called "tourist tax" was a key to the county engineering a deal with a land developer to build a sports complex and attract the New York Mets for spring training.
Tourists have come to expect this additional levy, just as they expect to enjoy the beaches that have been renourished with some of the proceeds.
For too long, Pasco has passed on the opportunity to raise this extra revenue. In 1982, voters rejected a tourist tax, largely because they were given little information about it and believed they would be increasing their own tax outlay.
On Nov. 6, Pasco voters will get another chance. This time they ought to say yes.
The 2-percent addition to the cost of temporary lodging will raise an estimated $480,000 a year in a county where the property tax rate is almost at its maximum level. The law allows for 50 percent of the tax revenues to be used for bricks-and-mortar items, such as sports arenas, museums and cultural centers, but also for beach improvements. The county, taking advantage of state money for preserving sensitive land, expects to gain ownership of about 100 acres of coastal property known as the Gills tract. Tourist tax dollars could be used for that project, as well as enhancement of the county parks at Green Key Beach, Hudson Beach and the Withlachoochee River.
Forty percent of the tax dollars must be used to promote Pasco tourism, and the remaining 10 percent would be for administration.
The nine-member Tourist Development Council would recommend potential projects to the County Commission, which would have ultimate responsibility for the spending. In some of the early wish-list discussions, one exciting possibility was the satellite of the Great Explorations Hands-on Museum of St. Petersburg proposed for downtown New Port Richey.
A half-million dollars would not come close to meeting all the wishes for tourist development in a county so vast. But it would be welcome indeed.