VERO BEACH — Indian River County has a Tourist Development Tax, also known as the Tourist Tax or the Bed Tax, which is intended to promote tourism in the county. According to Vero Beach City Council Member Dick Winger, the city does not receive its fair share.
At the June 1 City Council meeting, Mr. Winger urged the city to make a forceful push for funding. Specifically, Mr. Winger wants Tourist Tax funds for city beaches and the development of the Three Corners site.
“What draws tourists to Indian River County in large part is the city brand name and reputation and facilities,” Mr. Winger told the council. “Yet the city receives no money, especially from District 1, all collected within the city.”
Indian River County collects 4 cents on every dollar spent on rentals from hotels, condos, and other short term rentals of six months or less. Of that, one and one-half cents are applied to beach re-nourishment projects (replacing lost sand); one cent is applied to the former Dodgertown facility and to retire bonds on the project; and one and one-half cents to promote tourism in the county.
“The city's need for beach and other assistance to keep people safe is at least as pressing a need as funding of the Jackie Robinson Center, or beach re-nourishment,” Mr. Winger said. “The city has a superior claim to Bed Tax funding as compared to any of the other six organizations receiving funding. The city is called upon to house, entertain, and keep safe the tourists. What is the point of bringing more tourists than the city is funded to safely host?”
The “city of Vero Beach contributes over 50% of the tourist tax dollars into the tourist tax fund, and receives very little in return except for beach re-nourishment,” City Attorney John Turner said. “The tourists visit city beaches that have lifeguards and parking facilities that need upgrading, repairing and replacing. In approving the (Tourist Development Council), city voters were led to believe that funds would be remitted to the city based upon the amount paid. This has not happened. The city residents have been misled.”
Mr. Turner added “The city will be making a request next year to budget funds for various beach improvements and for maintenance projects to Indian River Lagoon, and possibly for the Three Corners development.”
According to Mr. Winger, 57% of the tax is collected within the city of Vero Beach.
“As both the county population and tourism expands, a city of 18,000 is called upon to provide facilities and destinations,” Mr. Winger said. “At this juncture, the city is on a path to develop the Three Corners area into a destination to supplement the ones we now provide: the ocean, 14th Ave., Riverside/McWilliams, the marina, and the new Cultural Arts Village. A major new destination at Three Corners is certainly needed, and it seems is something city residents desire.”
Last year, Mr. Winger said, the Tourist Tax collected $137,191 over the 2020/2021 budget, or a 15.1% increase.
“Therefore, it makes sense that the Tourist tax increase of about $130,000 over the 2020/2021 budget be allocated to the city of Vero Beach.”
Mr. Winger also urged that the city share in Tourist Tax revenue beyond 2021/2022 “to the degree that there is growth in revenue and that the city use such funding for the public benefit at the Three Corners site.”
The Vero Beach City Council concluded that it should have a more detailed discussion before presenting a formal request for Tourist Tax funds to the county.