For more than 30 years, Bay County has collected bed taxes to promote tourism. A new proposal under consideration in the Florida senate could expand the uses for bed tax money.
“The bed tax money was for a specific purpose. It was to build tourism in Bay County,” said TDC board member Gary Walsingham.
Several members of the Bay County Tourist Development Council believe a new proposal in the senate could change that purpose. The legislation would expand local TDC’s ability to spend bed tax money on other needs like transportation and sewer projects. Bay County tourism leaders see it as a way for the state to push their responsibilities onto local government.
“Anytime the politicians see there is a pot of money or stream of money out there, they want to get their hands on it and use it on some project that is not really related to what the money was for,” said Walsingham.
Currently TDC’s are allowed to spend bed tax money on marketing, advertising, beach re-nourishment projects, lifeguard programs and some police funding. As for roads, Panama City Beach mayor Mike Thomas said tourists already help foot those bills through gas and sales taxes.
“Tourist pay for that to help pay for our roads. And that will take care of the road problems the county has and Panama City Beach has. We do not need the state telling us what to do with this,” said Thomas.
He said it’s not necessary for the state to use local bed taxes.
“They are working very hard to talk about the taxes they are cutting. If they need that money what are they cutting it for? They’re not saying they are raising taxes to do it, they are just going to take what we have already worked for,” said Thomas.
As for the argument that transportation and sewer improvements will help increase tourism, Thomas said it would decrease money for promoting the destination. The bill is still moving through senate committees. The house is considering a companion bill.