The TDC may take steps to assure transient rental properties are paying their taxes properly.
At the Nov. 21 county meeting, Apalachicola Tourist Development Council Executive Director Curt Blair told commissioners that collections for August, $121,800, showed a $39,000 increase over last year, a strong resurgence after July income was about 5 percent less than 2016.
“I can only suggest that the dramatic increase in August was due in part to a posting issue regarding July’s collections," Blair said. "In any event August was solid and reflected an increase over the previous year in. Collections are running 3.6 percent (above last year) overall. We’ll see what September numbers bring.”
He said that part of the confusion over collections was the result of poor communication with the Florida Department of Revenue, which collects Franklin County’s bed tax.
“The July and August collection numbers demonstrate once again how little we can rely on the department of revenue reports for planning and monitoring the collection of tourist tax,” Blair said.
He said the TDC is negotiating with Tax Collector Rick Watson over the possibility of collecting the bed tax locally which would allow the TDC to obtain better, more timely information about occupancy.
Blair said prior to this year, the total amount of bed tax collected in the county was insufficient to make collection by county staff cost effective.
Blair said, even with local collection, the current system makes it difficult to track transient rentals by VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and Airbnb. He said over the last two years there has been a 400 percent increase in the number of rentals booked through these internet rental portals, ands that it is probable some of these rentals are neither paying bed tax or sales tax.
“These rentals include garage apartments, mother-in-law apartments and even spare bed rooms," Blair said. "There is virtually no way for us to know, save for those that are managed by one of our lodging management companies, if any of these rentals are meeting health and safety requirements.”
He said the TDC board has instructed him to seek guidance from county commissioners and staff about the feasibility of instituting a licensing or registration program for all transient rentals in the county.
He said that more than half of all Florida counties currently collect bed tax locally.
At the suggestion of Chair Smokey Parrish, commissioners voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing on the matter after the first of the year.
At the same meeting two new members were appointed to the TDC board. Blair told commissioners that Walter Armistead, representing the lodging companies, and Frank Cook, who represented the city of Apalachicola, have both retired from their TDC posts.
He said Apalachicola proposed Mayor Van Johnson as the new representative and asked the board to recognize the appointment, which they did with a unanimous vote of approval.
Blair said Realtor Kathy Robinson of Apalachicola had been proposed to replace Armistead.
“TDC rules require that applicants (to this appointment) represent a company that collects the tourist tax,” he said. “The TDC Board voted to recommend Kathy Robinson to be appointed to the vacancy. Kathy is well known in the community and fulfills all the statutory and TDC policy requirements.”
Commissioner Ricky Jones moved that Robinson be accepted and the motion passed unanimously.
The next meeting of the Franklin County TDC Board will be Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 at 2 p.m. at the Eastpoint Visitor Center.