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Date of Issue: May 27, 2009

Resort tax collections down, extra penny might help

Resort tax collections by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau are down for this year when compared with the first three months of 2008, although the agency reports occupancy of Island tourist accommodations is virtually unchanged through April.

 Figures provided by the BACVB show $769,533 in resort tax was collected through March this year, compared with $852,120 through the same month last year. The $82,587 drop represents a 9.7 percent decline in tax revenue.

At the same time, however, occupancy of BACVB member properties surveyed for April 2009 was 65.4 percent for the month compared with 65.6 percent for April 2008.

But that was April.

 BACVB executive director Larry White said the availability of resort tax collection reports are usually one month behind the release of occupancy rates.

Overall occupancy of BACVB member properties was down 9.4 percent in March 2009 compared with the same month last year — 80.5 percent against 88.9 percent — and resort tax collections dropped accordingly, he said.

The 9.7 percent decline in tax collections also is reflected in the drop in the average daily room rate reported by the BACVB on Anna Maria Island for the first four months of 2009.

The Island’s average daily rate for January 2009 was down nearly $12 from the ADR for January 2008. The February 2009 average rate declined $4.35 from the same month last year, and the rate for March 2009 was off $8.48 compared with March 2008. The April average rate fell by $6.40.

 Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman said accommodation owners and managers may have priced their units a bit lower to attract visitors.

 “We had a great season, but faced a lot of competition for the winter visitor,” Brockman said. “Smart owners and managers adjust their rates every year to attract visitors and, judging by all the activity this past season, they priced very well.”

BACVB executive director Larry White said total resort tax collection figures should improve after April’s report is released because Easter was mid-month this year.

“If Easter is in April, as it was this year, I always like to wait until I see April collections before passing judgment” on the pace of collections, he said.

But White acknowledged that even with a good report for April, resort tax collections this year will likely lag behind last year’s pace.

 Tourist tax revenues are expected to increase after June 1, when the one-cent increase passed in April by the county commission becomes effective, bringing the total resort tax to 5 percent.

That extra revenue, however, may not be headed toward the BACVB treasury, or even that of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.

Revenues from the resort tax go to the tourism tax trust fund governed by the financial management department and county administrator Ed Hunzeker, White said. Hunzeker recommends allocation of the funds to the departments and the county commission has final approval.

“I’d like to say we have some control over the resort tax, but we don’t. All we can do is request funding,” White said.

As collections decline, so does the amount allocated to the BACVB, he said.

“We get something, but it gets smaller and smaller every month,” White observed. At the same time, tourism partners of the BACVB have said they want more money spent on marketing the Island, he indicated.

 Tourist tax revenues presently fund the BACVB marketing program, the Island beach renourishment performed every 10-15 years, and other tourist-related activities and programs.

And it’s not likely that any extra resort tax revenues will reach the beach renourishment program, currently slated to begin around 2012-13 with a $25 million price tag. A projected county share is about $6.25 million, money that the county does not have at present, Hunzeker said at the May 13 Anna Maria Island chamber board of directors meeting.

That could be because everyone in county government “wants to tap into that fund,” said Hunzeker at the chamber meeting.

“Everyone” includes County Commissioner Joe McClash, who suggested at a recent commission meeting the county use the extra penny collected to keep the Island trolley free to riders.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a former Holmes Beach mayor, wants the extra revenue earmarked for beach renourishment, but Hunzeker said the additional funds would not make up all the expected deficit for the next renourishment program.

 What programs will be funded with the extra penny are unknown.

 Hunzeker said he will present a draft budget for fiscal year 2009-10 at a commission workshop May 28. The draft will include his suggestion on allocation of the resort tax revenue to specific departments or programs.

White, however, believes the additional revenue is headed somewhere other than the BACVB.

“Times are tough,” he acknowledged. “I just hope our normal resort tax revenues are good in April and through the summer.”

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