Sumter commissioners are not ready to reinstate a controversial tourism tax.
Commissioners discussed the possibility of resurrecting the tourism tax, which was repealed in 2020, during a workshop Tuesday evening at the Sumter County Service Center at Pinellas Plaza in The Villages.
Administrator Bradley Arnold reminded commissioners that one of the attractive aspects of a tourism tax is that is collected from non-Sumter County residents and helps offset the burden on local taxpayers. A tourist development tax applies to transient (six months or less generally) rental accommodations such as trailer camps, recreational vehicle parks, mobile home parks, hotels, motels, condominiums or vacation homes.
The tourism tax was controversial because the money was used to help subsidize nightly entertainment at the town squares at Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood Paddock. While people visiting The Villages, either looking for a home or seeing friends or family in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown, certainly fill up hotel rooms in Sumter County, many saw the money as an unnecessary subsidy for The Villages, which uses the nightly entertainment to sell the “lifestyle” to potential homebuyers.
To reinstate the tourism tax, the commissioners would have to agree to put it to a referendum on the ballot. Commissioners considered the possibility of putting it on the November 2024 ballot with a potential Jan. 1, 2025 restart of the tourism tax.
Collecting the tax from hotels and motels, which pass the tax onto guests, would be fairly straightforward. But collecting the tourism tax on rentals and airbnbs, many of which are operated in The Villages, is far more difficult. There are plenty of honest property owners who paid the tax in the past, but there plenty who didn’t, officials indicated.
Only Commissioner Jeff Bogue was in favor of re-instituting the tourism tax.
“It’s an opportunity to raise money from non-citizens and we could reduce taxes,” Bogue said. “I don’t see this as being a tax on our citizens. It’s a tax on people who come into our county.”
Commissioners Roberta Ulrich and Don Wiley both said they oppose introducing a new tax.
Commission Chairman Craig Estep said he was open to the idea of looking at it in the future, but thought putting it on the November 2024 ballot would be too soon.
Commissioner Andrew Bilardello also said he was opposed to the tourism tax.