PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida - Three weeks after the 2010 Board of County Commission (BOCC) drafted an ordinance that could pave the way for new baseball stadium funding, the 2011 BOCC discussed extending the tourist tax past 2015, when Tropicana Field is paid off.
On the same afternoon new commissioners were sworn in, the BOCC held a workshop on the proposed tourist tax, or "bed tax," extension. However, baseball wasn't the main focus.
The Tourist Development Council (TDC) asked commissioners to tackle the issue ahead of its 2015 expiration to secure funding for the new Dali Museum as well as future marketing efforts for county attractions.
If the commission chooses not to take action, the bed tax will drop by from 5 percent to 3 percent on hotel, motel, and other similar stays in Pinellas County.
However, extending the tax could mean upwards of $4 million a year for sports- or convention-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.
Pinellas County's options stand in stark contrast to the lack thereof in Hillsborough County, where most of the bed tax is already committed to paying off Raymond James Stadium and the St. Pete Times Forum. Bonds on both stadiums expire in 2027.
A new stadium is expected to cost much more than either county can offer right now, possibly in the $500-600 million range, which could cost $30 million per year to finance.
Hillsborough commissioners have offered various suggestions on how to best keep the Rays in Tampa Bay, but none were eager to offer up taxpayer funds when recently polled.
Pinellas commissioners haven't yet suggested property tax dollars go toward a stadium, either, but a number of vocal voters are making sure their opposition to the idea is known.
10 News acquired several months worth of stadium-related emails directed at Pinellas commissioners. The tone of the critical comments ranged from perplexed to outraged:
"I urge you to not designate any new money for any long term commitment for the Rays "new" stadium. This privately-held, for-profit business should pay for any new stadium out of their own funds....Thanks for watching after the PUBLIC money to be used for citizen services, not rich baseball owners."
"In this day and time it is unconscionable to consider any public financing of any stadium for the benefit of a private corporation that is profitable regardless of the speculated benefits...The misconception that this tax will be tolerated and unnoticed by the tourists that feed our largest local industry is folly. This will jeopardize the credibility of the County and give tourism another reason to go elsewhere."
"We do not feel that Pinellas County should make the temporary stadium tax a permanent. If so it should require a vote by the citizens."
"As a Pinellas voter, I'm against using a portion of Pinellas tourist tax to pay for a new Rays stadium. Fans and businesses benefiting from the Rays should pay for the new stadium. I doubt that enough Pinellas tourists com to see the Rays or a new stadium to justify use of the tax."
"Of course, the bed tax is tax revenue generated with the approval of hotels paid by their travel customers and assigned to the benefit of the hotels via tourism promotion and improvement, but the domino effect to final discussion of OUR tax dollars for stadium building caught my attention...It turns out that with the continuation of bond payments due for both the Clearwater and Dunedin spring training sports facilities thru 2021, the extension must and will go thru. BUT....there are changes that could immediately benefit some of our parks with some of these dollars so desperately in need right now after the November 30th commission vote!! Our Parks and Preserves and beaches are THE tourist draw in this county, HANDS DOWN...I could live with this extension knowing that there are many hoops to jump through to EVER get public buy in for a taxpayer-funded stadium in these horrible economic times, particularly if our commissioners and TDC can see the wisdom in keeping our CURRENT tourism stars like Fort De Soto maintained in some better degree until a permanent revenue generation fix is finally decided upon by the commissioners for all of our parks and preserves."
"It would seem that I should have some say (vote) on how my money (taxes) is spent on non critical issues such as the Tampa Bay Ray (TBA's)stadium. It is incredulouse, in my mind, as to why a decision of this magnitude would be even considered at this point in time and commitments made for five years hence. I want a vote by our residents on their wishes and mine. Please cosider a referendem."
Many of the critical comments urged commissioners to spend the available bed tax dollars on "vital county services," but as described earlier, state statute prohibits that kind of allocation.
The Dali and bed tax exemption issues are on the regular commission agenda for their Nov. 30 meeting.
Timeline of events in the Rays' stadium saga
Follow 10 News reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky, Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky, or on his Sports Business blog, Shadow of the Stadium.