The new Salvador Dali Museum is shown during construction in this photo from HOK + Beck Group.
PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida - Following a four-and-a-hour meeting, the Pinellas Co. Board of County Commission (BOCC) approved a compromise that will extend the five percent rate to 2021.
The initial proposal, which called for an indefinite extension of the five percent rate, failed to get the five-vote supermajority necessary. But when Commissioner Neil Brickfield switched his vote on the compromise plan, the 2021 extension passed, 5-2.
In October, the BOCC drafted an ordinance that would pave the way for funding for the new Dali Museum as well as a potential new baseball stadium in Pinellas County. However, newly-elected Commissioner Norm Roche has expressed interest in letting the tax lapse with no new stadium proposal on the table.
Ninety-eight percent of the county's five-cent tourist tax is paid by visitors, but it is currently set to drop to just three cents in 2015 when the bonds on Tropicana Field are paid off.
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The Tourist Development Council (TDC) asked commissioners to tackle the issue ahead of its 2015 expiration to secure funding for the new Dali Museum, beach renourishment, and future marketing efforts for county attractions.
But when mention of a possible new stadium arose, dozens of Pinellas County residents voiced their opposition.
If the commission chose not to take action, the bed tax would have dropped from 5 percent to 3 percent on hotel, motel, and other similar stays in Pinellas County. Additionally, funding for the completion of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg would have been in jeopardy.
However, extending the tax means upwards of $4 million a year for tourism-related buildings. And another $4-5 million for other programs, such as beach renourishment and marketing.
Additional funds could become available in 2016 when the Blue Jays' spring training/minor league stadium in Dunedin is paid off (approx. $300,000/yr) and in 2021 when the Phillies' stadium in Clearwater is paid off (approx. $600,000/yr).
State statutes prohibit counties from using bed taxes for most typical budget items like police, fire, and utilities.
Roche and Commissioner Nancy Bostock opposed the plan and Chairwoman Karen Seel indicated the plan was just a plan...and could be revisited long before the extension takes effect in 2015.
Roche advocated a "pay-as-you-go" approach to promoting tourism, but several commissioners, Dali supporters, and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster advocated to keep the bed tax at five percent to continue to support local tourism.
Foster, Seel, and others stressed that the discussion was not about a new stadium and the Rays haven't approached the city or county with a single proposal. A new stadium is expected to cost in the $500-600 million range, which could cost $30 million per year to finance.
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Noah Pransky, 10 News