More Straight Talk
Steve “Stef” Stefanides
In the last several weeks there has been a swirl of controversy surrounding remarks made by Councilman Victor Rios in his role as a representative of Marco Island on the Tourist Development Council (TDC). The council is authorized by Florida Statue 125.0104 to advise the Board of County Commissioners pertaining to support of the area tourism industry and expenditures of Tourist Development Tax Monies.
That nine-member council was created by the Collier County Board of Commissioners in March of 1992. The revenues are created by a 4% tax on hotel rooms, campgrounds, and short term vacation rentals (less than 6 months). They do meet monthly on the fourth Monday of the month at 9 AM in the County Complex in the commissioners’ chambers at the corner of Airport and 41, and is a vital link in the process of returning Tourist Tax monies to the island.
The make-up of the board consists of a representative from the Collier Board of Commissioners, the City of Naples and the City of Marco Island. In addition to those individuals, it includes up to four representatives from the tourism industry owner/operators and two individuals involved in the tourism industry.
One of the major benefactors of the funding derived from the income generated from the 4% tax lies in beach re-nourishment and inlet management. In addition to those two areas the revenues generated also fund the operations of the local county museums and help to fund special events.
In the last several years there has been an increase in spending from those funds derived from the tax to increase tourism awareness, as the competition for those tourist dollars has increased and Collier County has sought to maintain or grow its share of those spending money for vacation and business travel to the area.
Tourism is Collier County’s largest employer and accounts for over 36,000 jobs in our area and generates over $124 million in sales and gas tax revenues each year. The total economic impact to our area is over $1.95 billion to Collier County, no small sum by any means.
The economy of the county and our community is highly dependent upon tourist dollars. Many of our residents today were first introduced to our island while here on vacation or at a conference at one of our exceptional facilities throughout Collier County.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Rios didn’t choose his words more carefully; instead he let his frustration with traffic issues overcome his ability to speak more tactfully, while losing an opportunity to opine in a more professional manner on a larger debate over a possible $60-$80 million dollar conceptual plan to create a “mega sports complex” within the county.
The complex that is being proposed could be funded through a 1% increase in the TDC tax, which presently funds the programs I’ve mentioned earlier. Some are fearful the effect that another downturn in the economy might have on that revenue source and the subsequent impact on beach re-nourishment and inlet maintenance funding, along with the other programs being supported by the present 4% tax.
Should the TDC revenues fall short of the needs to satisfy the bond repayment requirements, the county would be faced with increasing ad-valorem taxes to cover the shortfall or reduce spending in the other areas presently being funded by TDC revenues.
Any reduction in those other areas, especially in the maintenance of our beaches and inlets would be disastrous to our tax base and our economy.
Only Mr. Rios’ counterparts on the council can make a decision as to whether another might be better suited to represent our community on that very important board. A calm demeanor and a reasoned mind are two of the major components necessary to best represent the financial interests of the island on that board, as they deliberate on these important issues. The ability to work towards consensus is another attribute that must be in evidence in the personality traits of those serving on these advisory boards.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com