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Infrastructure targeted with lodging tax hike

 With little fanfare
and unanimous support, the Franklin County commissioners voted May
18 to increase the lodging tax on short-term rentals from 2 to 3 percent.

And they did it for three main reasons.

Infrastructure, infrastructure and infrastructure.

With a power to increase the tax based on a super-majority
vote, and with a public hearing that went by quickly, as no one spoke out
either for or against it, the commissioners were all in agreement on two things.

That the money could be used to address the challenges of
dealing with an ever-increasing supply of tourists, and that the tax would be entirely
paid for by those tourists, and not by local residents.

“We are looking forward to the opportunity to work on more
tourism infrastructure projects in the future at a much quicker pace,” said
John Solomon, who directs the Tourist Development Council. “This increase on
the the transient rental lodging tax will assist in us enhancing the county’s
ability to accommodate the tourists visiting our area.”

Note Solomon’s use of the term “tourism infrastructure projects,” as the  laws governing the TDC make clear that such monies cannot be used to fund broader water, sewer and stormwater needs.

But certainly such things as bathrooms, as the county demonstrated with its recent replacement of the facility on St. George Island,  and parking lots and parks can all benefit from these additional dollars.

The county’s director of finance, Erin Griffith, said it
will be about two months before the tax will begin to be collected,
making it likely no sooner than August 1 that lodging providers will up the
charge on their rooms or RVs from two to three cents on the dollar.

Based on last year’s total of $1.4 million gleaned from the tax,
the increase will bring in an additional $700,000 into the county’s coffers.

But at the torrid pace of tourism so far this fiscal year,
the fiscal year total could be as high as $1.6 million, and so an additional
$800,000 could be in the offing for the 2021-22 fiscal year that begins in

Between Oct. 2020 and Jan. 2021, tourism in the county has
been on a tear, with records snapped, beginning with a record $147,000-plus in October,
a 64 percent hike over the year before, and another record in November, with about
$86,500, a 51 percent leap over the year prior.

December’s nearly $68,000 was another record, close to 30 percent
ahead of the year before. And January was a whopping nearly $116,000, a roughly 113
percent hike over the year before.

Things only cooled in February, when the roughly $84,500
total represented a drop of about 11 percent over the year prior.

But Solomon has hinted that March snapped right back to a sizzling
pace, and with collections running well ahead of last year, that prospect is
certainly likely.

Even with the lodging tax now raised to 3 percent, Franklin continues
to be at the low end of counties that are known for tourism. Leon, Bay, Gulf,
Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton remain at 5 percent, while Wakulla is at 4

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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