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Saddlebrook to campaign against tax

The general manager of Pasco County's largest resort is campaigning against a proposed tax that would add 2 percent to the cost of hotel rooms and use the proceeds to attract tourists. Dick Boehning, the executive vice president of Saddlebrook Resorts, contends that the tourist development tax would hurt his business. Moreover, he says the tax should not be created, because county officials have not decided exactly how it would be spent.

Voters will decide Tuesday whether to create the tax, which would add 2 percent to the price of hotel and motel rooms and other properties leased or rented for less than six months.

Pasco officials estimate that the tax would generate $480,000 per year. As recommended by a council appointed to study the tax, half the revenues from the tax would go for tourist-related projects, 40 percent would be used to promote Pasco as a destination for tourists, and 10 percent would be used for administration.

In a letter sent to Saddlebrook's 800 employees, Boehning said Saddlebrook could lose convention business by being forced to add the tax to its bills. He said Wednesday that another letter will take the resort's position to Saddlebrook residents and suppliers. He also plans to advertise his position in local newspapers.

Boehning estimates that Saddlebrook would generate half the tax and thus would be unfairly burdened. As a member of the Tourist Development Council, which recommended that the tax be put on the ballot, he voted against putting the tax on the ballot because the council did not submit a list of projects that would benefit from the tax.

"We were in a position where we were recommending a tax with nothing to spend it on," he said. "That's putting the cart before the horse in my opinion."

Advocates of the tax say the beauty of the proposal is that tourists, not Pasco residents, would pay the tax. They also doubt that the tax would be imposing enough to drive business elsewhere.

"I don't think someone's going to say, "We're not going to go to Pasco County and we're not going to Saddlebrook because a room is going to cost $1.50 more,'

" said Dara Khoyi, a member of the Tourist Development Council.

Supporters say the council still could hold extensive public hearings before spending any money to ensure that Pasco got the tourist attractions it wants.

"Saddlebrook is the only voice opposing it, and there are a tremendous number of voices in favor of it," said Cliff Pottberg, chairman of Citizens for a Better Pasco County, a committee formed to promote passage of the tourist development tax.

Boehning did not say how much Saddlebrook plans to spend to get its message out, but if the campaign costs more than $500, then its organizers must formally establish a committee to carry on the effort, according to Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning.

Moreover, the committee would have to obligate all the money it intended to spend on the campaign by the end of today and would have to file a report on its contributions and expenditures by Friday.

"He (Boehning) probably needs to give us a call," Browning said.

Nevertheless, even if Saddlebrook spent more than $500 without forming such a committee, two members of Citizens for a Better Pasco County doubted that they would file a complaint with Browning's office.