Destiny wants Okaloosa County to resolve tourist tax disputes
DESTINY – Feeling excluded from questions relating to potential expansion of Okaloosa County tourist tax district, city council on Monday passed a joint resolution calling for postponement of this fall’s expansion referendum elections.
Council voted 6-1, with Councilor Rodney Braden voting the only “no” to pass the resolution.
According to lawyers for the City and Land Use of Destin, the council is the first local governing body to consider the joint resolution. Fort Walton Beach City Manager Michael Beedie distributed the resolution on July 12 to each of the directors of the other eight municipalities in the county.
Better known as the “bed tax” district, the county’s tourism development tax district was approved in 1989 and encompasses Destin, Cinco Bayou, and most of Fort Walton Beach and Mary Esther, as well as areas not. incorporated immediately adjacent to Destin and Fort Walton Beach, such as Okaloosa Island.
The expenses of the Departmental Council for Tourism Development are financed by the 5% tourist tax paid by people who spend the night in the accommodation structures of the district.
With simple majority approval of a county-wide district voters, Niceville, Valparaiso, Crestview, Shalimar, Laurel Hill, the rest of Fort Walton Beach and Mary Esther and other unincorporated areas would all join the district.
Destin has historically generated the bulk of the county’s tax revenue, according to local officials. While the Florida Department of Revenue currently collects revenue for the county, the DOR does not track where the tax revenue was generated.
The resolution passed by council on Monday asks the county commission to implement a local resort tax collection method to determine how much of the tax is collected in various parts of the county.
The resolution also asks the committee to postpone the mailing only referendum election, currently scheduled for Oct. 5, for at least 60 days to allow county staff and lawyers to work with municipal staff and lawyers on tax collection issues.
Tax revenues can only be used in the district. In recent years, the existing district has generated from $ 18 million to over $ 23 million per year, and these funds have mainly been used to promote the area to tourists and to fund beach safety and improvement.
If the district becomes a county, the newly added areas, which total nearly 3,000 accommodation units, could generate an annual total of $ 4-5 million in additional revenue.
Whether to raise millions of dollars from an expanded city tax district is arguably “the most important question the county has been subjected to in the past 30 years,” the councilor said. Destin Municipal Officer Dewey Destin at Monday’s meeting.
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Destin City Attorney Kyle Bauman noted at the meeting that Crestview and Shalimar officials are unwilling to support the joint resolution and that Fort Walton Beach City Council is unlikely to consider it until August, because it does not have regular sessions in July.
In a separate but related action on Monday, Destiny council members unanimously passed a resolution to institute an “alternative dispute resolution process” that aims to resolve the city’s two-part conflict with the county.
According to Bauman, there is a dispute over whether voters in Destin have the legal capacity to vote in the October 5 elections, which will ask residents outside the city tax district if they wish to vote. ‘extend to the whole county.
County officials cited Florida law as saying the area outside the existing district is the area that can vote on the expansion.
In addition to this conflict, Destin officials oppose “the form, manner and method by which Okaloosa County proposes to expand the tax district as it puts the current tax district at risk of being” reset. “at a lower tax rate,” Bauman said.
The alternative dispute resolution process is provided for by state laws and is not the equivalent of a trial, according to Bauman.
Former Destin City Attorney Jeff Burns is now the city’s special advocate in its comprehensive dispute with the county. In Monday’s meeting, Burns said county administrator John Hofstad would receive a letter and a certified copy of the resolution passed by the council to implement the dispute resolution process within a day or two. .
Burns said the first “public conflict assessment meeting” between Destin and county officials would take place within 30 days of Hofstad receiving the official notice.
While every member of the board is allowed to attend this meeting, the board has agreed that Councilor Prebble Ramswell and Councilor Kevin Schmidt be their representatives in the alternative dispute resolution process.
The whole process “could be stopped in a week or two” if the city comes to an agreement with the county, Burns said.