The Franklin County Tourist Development Council (TDC) failed in a bid to double the bed tax in 2013, listened to criticism from fishing guides and fought over a vacant seat on the TDC board.
At their regular April 3 meeting of the TDC, Director Curt Blair and Chair Pinki Jackel began a push to double the 2 percent bed tax collected by local short-term lodging providers.
Blair opened the meeting by cautioning that, “Without an influx of funds, we are set for what we can do for the rest of the fiscal year.” He bemoaned the loss of funding from BP after the oil spill crisis passed.
Jackel distributed information on the growth of tourism in the county and the bed tax charged in surrounding counties to TDC members. She argue the existing bed tax had led to an increase of 60 percent in tourist activities and allowed the TDC to distribute $2 million to not for profit organizations.
“If we have done all this with the 2 percent we collect, what can we do with more? If we increase it by 2 percent, that will be an additional $800,000 per year,” she said.
Jackel received universal support from the TDC board members.
The TDC had two possible routes to win approval for the tax hike, it could be voted on by the public or it could be approved by the county commission. Board members chose the latter route. Because of the size of the increase, the measure would require a super majority vote of at least 4-1 to pass.
A TDC report issued in July showed the county had experienced the strongest spring ever for tourism. Blair held workshops in Apalachicola and Carrabelle promoting the increased tax and was met with limited public backing.
Most island lodging providers supported the tax hike but hotel owners in other parts of the county were less enthusiastic.
Jimmy Mosconis, owner of the Bay City Lodge was openly opposed. He called the existing 2 percent bed tax “taxation without representation. It hasn’t helped me one iota and I want out of it,” he said.
Jackel said the purpose of doubling the tax was to “promote year round sustainability.” She also began to promote the idea of an Eastpoint Visitor Center that would occupy the old highway patrol office on US 98.
At the Sept.r 3 county meeting, Jackel moved first to double the tax and then to increase it by one percent. Both motions died for lack of a second.
Commissioners then voted 4-1 to take the question of doubling the tax to a public referendum, with Commissioner Noah Lockley opposed. It proved to be too late to add the proposal to the November docket and no date has been set for the referendum.
Lockley then moved to bring the administration of the Tourist Development Council in-house and dismiss Blair but the motioned failed by a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Cheryl Sanders, William Massey and Jackel opposed.
Without additional funds, the TDC changed its marketing strategy and purchased advertising space in ten publications and other target media chosen by the not for profits who had applied for TDC support. Under the new policy, each organization awarded funding receives $500 for advertising development and ads for fundraising events are displayed in the TDC’s chosen venues at no additional cost to the fundraising organization.
At the November 5 county meeting, commissioners voted 3-2 to create the Eastpoint Visitor Center with Lockley and Parrish opposed. Blair said TDC contingency funds could be used for the renovation.
In August, Alice Collins who had been a member of the TDC since its inception in 2004, announced she would step down freeing up a seat.
Three candidates vied for the position, Lynn Wilson Spohrer, who owns the Coombs House Inn in Apalachicola and a rental houses in Eastpoint and on St. George Island; Walter Armistead, owner of the Buccaneer Inn on St. George Island and Suncoast Vacation Rentals; and Segul Patel, general manager of the Best Western Inn in Apalachicola.
Spohrer, president of a registered corporation called the “Guest Lodging Association of Franklin County,” made a presentation to the TDC board and asked them to dedicate a TDC board seat to a representative of a hotel, motel, inn or bed and breakfast. She argued that lodging providers in Apalachicola had never held a TDC seat while Collins, CEO of Collins Vacation Rentals and Diana Prickett rental manager for Resort Vacation Rentals had both been seated on the board for multiple two-year terms.
An initial TDC meeting to choose a candidate to recommend to the county board was held on Oct. 16. Of the three candidates, only Spohrer attended. The TDC board decided not to choose a candidate at that meeting because Jackel was not present.
At a second meeting held on Nov. 6, the TDC board voted 6-2 to recommend Armistead with Frank Cook representing Apalachicola and Beverly Hewitt representing the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, opposed.
At their Nov. 12 meeting, county commissioners voted unanimously to approve the TDC recommendation.
After the Nov. 5 election, a second seat on the TDC board got a new occupant when Cal Allen lost his bid to retain a seat on the Carrabelle Commission. He was replaced on the TDC board by Carrabelle Commissioner Charlotte Schneider.
In September 2012, the Apalachicola Maritime Museum (AMM) began managing the St. George Island Visitor Center and shortly thereafter, installed new signs that prominently displayed the name and logo of the museum.
At the September 2013 TDC meeting, questions were raised about the sign and TDC board members Chester Reese a fishing guide and Rex Pennycuff, owner of Fisherman’s Choice bait and fishing supplies both complained that George Kirvin Floyd, founder of the AMM, was using the visitor center to promote his own business ventures.
At a special TDC workshop held to discuss the visitor center, Floyd said the sign was approved and paid for by the TDC. A number of business owners, in particular fishing guides, accused Floyd and AMM of purposely directing visitors to businesses located in Apalachicola and failing to mention island businesses offering the same services.
Eventually, the TDC board told Floyd to remove the AMM logo from the visitor center sign and decided all county visitors centers should display identical signs.