Okaloosa to expand the Tourism Bed Tax District countywide with special election

On Tuesday morning, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution to adopt the ballot language to hold a Special Election to expand countywide the Tourist Development Taxing District.

  • The election will be held on October 5 via the Mail-In ballot method.
  • Currently, the taxing district is includes areas in Fort Walton Beach, Okaloosa Island and Destin.

According to Okaloosa County, 60 of the 67 counties in Florida implement tourism bed taxes. Of the 60 counties implementing tourism bed taxes, 56 do so countywide.

  • ➡️ In the Panhandle, Okaloosa and Bay county don’t collect taxes countywide.

By Florida law, the area outside of the existing Tourist Development Taxing District is the area that gets to vote on the expansion. The new countywide TDT area would include adding 5 other cities:

  • Niceville
  • Valparaiso
  • Crestview
  • Laurel Hill
  • Shalimar
  • As well as additional areas of the cities of Mary Esther and Fort Walton Beach, and much more of unincorporated Okaloosa County.

In Okaloosa there are approximately 152,901 total registered voters in the County. Most of these voters reside in the expansion area, with 117,946 registered voters, according to County documents.

The Supervisor of Elections estimates that a traditional election would cost roughly $145,000 and $100,000 for the mail-in election. $80,000 of CARES Reimbursement funding has already been allocated from the Board for the election.

The City of Destin brought up an issue with the ballot language on Monday night. According to the county, the ballot language has to be 75 words or under and must be a yes or no question. Below is the ballot language.

  • “Shall the area subject to the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Tax be expanded to include all of the areas of Okaloosa County, including the municipalities, and with the funds to be collected through the tax on short term rental of lodgings or accommodations to be used as set forth in the adopted Okaloosa County Tourist Development Plan.”

Currently, Destin contributes roughly 66% of the current bed-tax dollars and Destin stakeholders want to make sure that they continue to get an equitable split of the revenue.

  • ➡️ According to County Attorney Lynn Hoshihara, the money currently collected (and in the reserves) has to be spent based on the existing taxing district. New funds can be used for the amended district.
  • 💰 So, money in today’s reserves could not be spent in the north end of the county.

Crestview Mayor JB Whitten spoke before the Board offering support for making the bed-tax “fair and equitable” among the different cities.

  • Destin Mayor Pro Tem Dewey Destin asked the Board for a 30 day extension to allow City’s attorneys to work with the County’s attorneys on a “fair and equitable” ordinance.
  • Under state statue, Crestview would gain the guaranteed seat on the Tourist Development Council based on population. The 2nd seat would either be for Destin or Fort Walton Beach.
  • There is a plan to keep Destin at the table by permanently designating the City of Destin for one TDC seat as an entity involved in tourism, according to the county.

Commissioner Mel Ponder made a motion to delay a vote on the Resolution for 30 days to work out some of the concerns brought before them. However, it failed in a 3-2 vote.

Next up, the Board will vote on an Ordinance possibly in September, ahead of the October Special Election.

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