Youngman still wants bed tax repeal
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING Bill Youngman doesn't want to kill the 2 percent tourism tax, but he still wants an expiration date on it.
Published: December 14, 2012
Published: December 14, 2012
"It's a forever tax," Youngman said in February. "We just want to put a sunset on it."
On Thursday, Youngman said he isn't letting up on the Tourism Development Commission.
Ten years ago, Highlands County voters approved a 2 percent tax on every hotel room and temporary lodging. Today, the money is used to attract more tourists in arts and culture, lakes, attractions and local events categories.
The tourism tax is one reason why 16,000 people and 160 exhibitors showed up at the Sebring airport for the 2012 U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, said Jana Filip, director. At least 20 airplanes were sold, along with products from avionics to engines to iPads, with which modern civilian and military pilots navigate.
Filip used $5,000 in TDC money to advertise in PilotMag and Plane & Pilot. The pilots, spouses and children who came spent more than 1,700 guest-room nights here, said Filip, a hospitality industry veteran.
In the past three years, Tourism Director John Scherlacher said the 2 percent tourism tax also has been used to promote the Caladium Festival, Run to the Heartland, Cruise to the Heartland, Bike Sebring, Heartland Triathlon, the Florida National Softball Association World Series, Sebring International Raceway's Historic Fall Classic, the Florida Bass Federation's Minn Kota Junior State Championship, the Sebring Firemen North/South Football Classic, the 2010 State AAA and Ozone tournaments, and the Dixie Youth State Tournament.
South Florida Water Management District and Highlands County Lakes Association have used the money to clean Lake Clay and Lake Tulane, and the Historic Preservation Commission assembled a walking tour brochure for downtown Sebring.
Nevertheless, Youngman has asked the county commissioners on several occasions for help with a petition to repeal the tax and replace it with a same tax that would automatically return to the ballot every 10 years for reauthorization.
"Do I think the tourist tax is good for Highlands County?" Youngman asked rhetorically. "Yes, I do, if it's used right. I think we would all be for it if we had exactly what we have now, with a sunset."
Youngman said he's been in the hospital for brain surgery twice this year, so he's not pushing the issue as hard. However, his group, Citizens for Government Accountability, is still interested. About 20 people meet at Beef O'Brady's in Sebring on the first Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m.
"We don't have a president or a chairman," Youngman said. "I'm just the guy who gets up and speaks. They decide. It's a pure democracy."
Sixty-one of Florida's 67 counties collect a hotel-motel tax, Highlands is one of the 14 counties that collect 2 percent – the lowest amount.
In May, the TDC voted to raise the 2 percent tax to 3 percent. Because the 2 percent tax was undergoing a 10-year audit, the TDC decided to wait until December.
"I think that will be on the agenda at the next meeting," TDC Chair Don Elwell said.
The five county commissioners could pass that higher tax with four votes, Elwell said, or the question could be put to voters.
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