A referendum to double the county’s 2 percent bed tax appears to be headed for the November ballot.
At the July 1 county meeting, Tourist Development Council (TDC) board members Paul Parker and Walter Armistead requested the proposed increase be placed on the regular ballot to save the cost of a special election.
Last September, back-to-back motions by Commissioner and TDC Chair Pinki Jackel, to double the county’s bed tax and then to increase it by just 1 percentage point, both died for lack of a second.
At last week’s meeting, commissioners voted 4-1 to place the question of doubling the tax to a public referendum, with Commissioner Noah Lockley opposed. The discussion was then tabled while the TDC considered the referendum.
At the same meeting, Lockley moved to bring the administration of the TDC in-house, but the measure failed by a 2-3 vote, with Commissioners Cheryl Sanders, William Massey and Jackel opposed.
On July 1, Jackel told commissioners the TDC board had voted unanimously to request the referendum be placed on the November ballot.
Parker told commissioners the increase is needed to end the off-season and make tourism a more sustainable industry in the county. He said with increased tourism, more people would be employed fulltime.
Parker said evidence of the effectiveness of increased advertising is in the results of advertising subsidized by funds provided by BP during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“We are up to a $50 million industry and pushing for $100 million. Our goal is to make it a year-round economic engine,” he said.
Parker said that, during the oil spill, the county spent $2 million and brought in $4 million in new revenue.
He said half of the proposed tax increase would be spent on marketing. He said the biggest out-of-county marketing provides the greatest return, but with decreased funding, the county cannot advertise nationally. He said that, out of about $900,000 collected under the current 2 percent tax, only about $100,000 is spent on advertising nationally.
“Under the new math, if we now collect $900,000, we would theoretically collect ($1.8 million), Jackel said.
Parker said $450,000 of that would be dedicated to national advertising. “That’s back to the level of advertising we were able to generate when we got the really generous grants from BP,” he said.
“I don’t see any of this money trickling down to District 3,” said Lockley. “I’m not going to vote for something that only benefits a few people.”
Parker said the improvements would benefit the entire county.
In his remarks, Parrish said Apalachicola is not properly represented on the TDC board.
“It’s ‘Franklin County TDC’ (and) it should be inclusive of the entire county,” Parrish said. “I do agree with doing offseason advertising and trying to make the tourist industry sustainable, but I represent District 4 and they are not represented on this board. I keep saying this and it falls on deaf ears.”
Parker said Apalachicola City Commissioner Frank Cook and business owner Beverly Hewitt represent Apalachicola on the TDC board.
“They are not collectors of the tax,” said Parrish.
In an interview later, Hewitt said she represents the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, which has members from all of the communities bordering Apalachicola Bay, and not only Apalachicola.
Parrish also said that the TDC had not provided the board with information about the presentation prior to Tuesday’s meeting. Jackel said County Planner Alan Pierce, who was not present, was responsible for providing the information in advance and had failed to do so.
Jackel and Parker said which vendors would be contracted to do the increased advertising have not been discussed. Parker said the TDC would continue to use some existing vendors but might consider bringing in an outside consultant.
Jackel said, if funding to the TDC is increased, the TDC would have to revise their plan to promote the area. She said TDC Administrator Curt Blair said the new tax could not take effect until January 2015 and the first funds would be received in March.
Commissioner Noah Lockley asked how much of the current TDC budget is spent on administration.
Lockley asked if administrative fees would double with increased funding. Parker said it would remain capped at 9 percent of the total money collected.
“The ratio doesn’t have to stay the same if the TDC board makes a different recommendation,” Jackel said.
Parker said the second penny of the additional sales tax collected would go to developing infrastructure and funding not-for-profits.
Commission Chair Cheryl Sanders said renovation of the Coombs Armory had top priority for funding. She said she also supported increased funding for the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum.
She said a third important project was public restrooms for the beach at Alligator Point.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Alan Feiffer, president of the Alligator Point Taxpayers Association (APTA) asked Sanders to come and discuss the bathrooms with APTA. He said that the addition of bathrooms would bring increased traffic to the beach and that parking was already insufficient for visitors to the site.
Sanders said before voting on including a referendum on the November ballot, she wanted to see the wording.
Jackel moved that Shuler prepare a referendum for consideration. Massey seconded the motion and it passed with Lockley and Parrish opposed.
Shuler said he could present a draft at the next county meeting. Jackel said the TDC had until September to provide the referendum to the Supervisor of Elections.
Once again, Lockley moved to bring administration of the TDC under county control and Parrish seconded the motion.
Jackel asked if the board should do this before the current contract with TDC Administrator Curt Blair was still in effect. She said the contract comes before the board at the first August meeting.
Lockley’s motion failed, with Massey, Jackel and Sanders opposed. Sanders said she felt the board should wait and review the contract