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‘Bed tax’ surplus to benefit county tourism

STORY BY CASEY STAVENHAGEN (Week of June 15, 2023)

It’s been a banner tourist season for Vero Beach and last week, the Indian River Board of County Commissioners got to solve an easy government problem – what to do with higher-than-expected revenues from the 4 percent hotel “bed tax.”

The Tourist Development Council’s $1.4 million budget was fully funded and then some by bed tax receipts.But with the $869,000 excess, the commissioners went with the staff’s recommendation to boost the tourist council’ 2023-24 budget by 17 percent.

The tourist council then recommended allocating $214,420 – which would otherwise be cash-forward reserves – to the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce.

Two commissioners, Laura Moss and Deryl Loar, were hesitant about handing the increase to the Chamber, instead suggesting the funds be banked for a potential economic downturn.

“You’re talking over 40 percent increase [to the Chamber]. We’re getting into some tough times that you’re going to see,” Loar said.

However, the continual increase of tourism hear suggests that additional funds to the agency yields a return on investment. Additionally, the TDC has a rainy day fund where approximately $2.5 million resides that could be used in an economic slump.

“We are facing uncertain times right now, but you have to look at the track record of what all of our community partners have done in tourism and how we’re able to collect four cents on a head to bed to equate nearly $4 million,” Commissioner Joseph Flescher said. “And I know there’s talk of five [cents] … It’ll only increase the abundance.”

The City of Vero Beach has been seeking a slice of bed tax revenues to use for emergency dune repairs, but in more than a decade of asking, city officials have been sent away empty-handed time and time again.

Commissioners ultimately decided to approve the tourist council’s recommendation, allocating the sum to the chamber. Loar and Moss dissented in the 3-2 vote.

Commission chair Joe Earman then presented his proposal for the county to increase its tourist tax from 4 percent to 5 percent to produce even more funds for enhancing county beaches.
Eventually, commissioners unanimously directed staff to gather more information and come back to a future meeting with a presentation.