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Tourist tax money up for grabs

It has become an annual rite: Citrus Economic Development Director Roy Taylor puts out a call, asking people to step forward with ideas on how the county should spend its tourist tax money.

And step forward they do, generally with suggestions that the county hand them some money for this project or that which they promise will attract more visitors.

Wednesday afternoon, the Tourist Development Council took a first look at this year's batch of ideas.

The Citrus County Fair Association was the hands-down winner for most inventive: give them $25,000 to build a go-cart track on the fairgrounds near the speedway.

Jean Grant, fair manager, said the Kart Track would be open Friday evenings twice a month from 5 to 11 p.m. The races would be for children 8 years and older.

Grant said that when it first opened, it would likely attract at least 100 entries.

The fair association would contribute at least $10,000 toward the project, she said, but it will not go forward with the plans unless the county contributes.

A development council member questioned whether it would be legal to spend tourist tax revenues on such a venture. "Call it a stadium," a member jokingly suggested, in reference to the abandoned plan to spend tourist tax dollars on a spring training camp.

Assistant County Attorney Richard Wesch said "it may be a bit of a stretch" to spend tourist tax dollars on the project.

Grant told the board, however, that she had checked with state officials and had been assured that it would be legal.

The council did not act on any of the requests Wednesday, but was skeptical of the Kart Track idea.

"Does the Tourist Development Council really want to get in the construction business?" asked member Carl Hille.

"I think it's a damn good project" and will draw people to the county, Hille said, but he asked why the fair association doesn't borrow the money and construct the Kart Track on its own.

Grant said that the association is not willing to borrow any more money right now because it operated at a loss this year.

The council scheduled a meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the County Commission chambers to vote on the requests for funds. The County Commission will have final say.

Among the other proposals to be considered are grants to each of the chambers of commerce to help with costs for advertising special events, such as the Florida Manatee Festival and the Floral City Strawberry Festival.

Council members said they may be reluctant to contribute to events that have shown a profit in recent years.

Tourist tax revenue comes from a 2 percent tax on short-term accommodations such as hotels. The county collects about $180,000 annually through the tax.