Movement to increase bed tax likely to be defeated

Coastal erosion on the First Coast has caused residents to push for an increase in the tourist development tax to help fund beach renourishment. Following the Tuesday, Oct. 16 meeting of the St. Johns County Commission, it does not appear that increase will take place.

It does not appear likely that a 1-percent increase in St. Johns County’s tourist development tax from 4 to 5 percent will be approved as a funding mechanism for local beach renourishment, despite the County Commission’s 3-2 vote directing county staff to move forward with drafting an ordinance on the matter at its Tuesday, Oct. 16 meeting.

The subject of much public debate for the better part of the last year, the item was added to the meeting’s agenda for discussion by Commission Chair Henry Dean, who has been a vocal proponent of the increase specifically for funding beach restoration.

“What’s before us today really is a funding formula partnership between the federal government, the state government and us, the local government,” Dean said the meeting. “This funding formula not only, I think, is the best and fairest and most equitable formula … but in my opinion, it’s the only formula. I’ve given a lot of thought to this over the last year and a half or so, and I have been unable to come up with any alternative. This gets us where we need to be, and if we don’t go forward, I am pretty much at a loss as to how we manage, restore and renourish our beaches.”

According to county officials, a 1-percent increase in the tourist development tax, also called the “bed tax,” could generate an additional $2.2 million annually, which many residents have hoped would be allocated towards a long-term beach renourishment plan to address St. Johns County’s long-standing issue of coastal erosion. Without at least a 4-1 supermajority vote of approval from the County Commission, however, those hopes are just a pipe dream, and currently, only three of the five commissioners have declared their support for the proposal.

Calling the decision a “no-brainer,” Commissioner Jay Morris — who is not seeking re-election — said he was completely in favor of implementing the increase. Read full article.