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Bed tax gets little, but vocal, attention

Plates of miniature muffins and croissants sat virtually untouched Wednesday morning at the Splendid Garden during a workshop on the county's proposed bed tax increase.

The workshop was held by the Tourist Development Council to give local motel and campground owners a chance to speak out on the proposed tax increase, but few attended.

The TDC wants to increase the bed tax from 2 percent to 3 percent.

"We're hear to receive input from those people who are most affected by the tax," council chairman Tom Barnette told the handful of people who attended the early morning meeting.

"Some people say, "Philosophically, I'm against any tax.' And what they forget is that this kind of tax is almost a reverse tax," Barnette said. "At the same time, when that tax is collected, it's used to promote the people who usually fight these taxes."

The bed tax is paid mostly by tourists, because it is levied on rooms and other accommodations that are rented for six months or less. While both Pasco and Citrus counties still have a 2 percent bed tax, many other counties in Florida have already raised the tax, some to the maximum 5 percent allowed by the state.

If the increase is approved by Hernando county commissioners, the additional money would be used for more advertising or possibly an eco-tourism consultant. The money would not be used for increased staffing, Barnette said.

However, it is partly because the tourist council is responsible for paying its two staff members that the tax increase is necessary. Previously, the county had paid the salaries, and all of the tax money raised by the council was used for advertising and promotions. This year, more than $61,000 of the council's money was used to pay salaries. In 1996, the council brought in $133,196 from the bed tax.

Although few motel representatives were there, those who did attend were vocal. Scott Guthman, general manager of the Holiday Inn at Weeki Wachee, said that his company opposes the tax.

"We have some concerns. It's easy for us to sit here and jump this thing 1 percent because we're not paying for it," Guthman said.

He said the Holiday Inn would feel better about the tax increase if the Tourist Development Council would develop a simple brochure that explains what the tax is and how its proceeds are used. Local motel owners would then be able to hand the brochure to any guests who question the tax.

Council members were in favor of Guthman's brochure proposal.

The proposed bed tax increase must receive a "super majority," at least four votes, from county commissioners to be approved. The issue is expected to be on the commission's agenda in December. If approved, the tax increase could take effect in January or February.

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