Several surprises came out of Tuesday's Manatee County commission meeting, one none too pleasant.
The collection of the tourist development tax on vacation rental homes and condominiums hasn't been as strong as possible, primarily due to foreign ownership and ignorance of the law. By being shortchanged on payments, the county's ability to fund tourism projects is lessened.
So commissioners adopted stronger measures to ensure compliance and improve enforcement practices, already in use but now with language in the ordinance to hold rental property owners more accountable. Those short-term rentals are required to collect 11.5 cents on the dollar, with 5 cents remaining in Manatee County and the remainder the state's cut.
This is major money that contributes to beach renourishment, McKechnie Field improvements and the Bradenton Area Convention Center, among other tourism projects and promotions. Every nickel must be spent on tourism development, as mandated by law.
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In fiscal 2013-2014, those so-called "bed tax" proceeds from hotel, motel and vacation rental stays reached a record high, surpassing $10 million, more than a million dollars above the previous year's total. It's only right that vacationers in short-term housing pay this tax like every hotel, motel and resort guest.
This is likely not a bombshell to insiders in government and the tourism trade, but the percentage of the county's visitor lodging total that belongs to short-term rentals is incredibly high -- 81 percent, one of the highest in the Tampa Bay region. That exposes the scarcity of hotel, motel and resort rooms available in Manatee County, a good reason why a batch of hotel construction projects are on various drawing boards.
Amid that, commissioners grappled with sour grapes over who would chair Port Manatee upon this and other leadership changes in January. Robin DiSabatino nominated herself, but some political maneuverings took place and Carol Whitmore was re-elected chair. The two clashed during Whitmore's re-election this year, most unpleasantly during DiSabatino's furious rant directed at Whitmore during a Manatee Tiger Bay Club meeting.
On Tuesday, DiSabatino called out her five Republican colleagues on the commission after the Port Manatee vote, stating: "This is really the lowest of the low, with all five of you. This is ridiculous."
Later she interrupted Commissioner Vanessa Baugh's comment about her hopes for commission unity in 2015 with another choice retort.
That kind of churlish behavior from the dais is not becoming, to put it mildly.
Life up in the air
Bradenton's latest development idea seems straight out of either "Up," a 2009 Pixar-Disney film about an explorer who tethered balloons to his home and floated into adventureland, or "The Jetsons," the popular futuristic cartoon from several generations ago. Thursday's Herald headline surely puzzled come people -- "Officials: City's future may be up in the air."
Good grief, don't city leaders have a solid plan for progress? Actually, that's what this is about.
Instead of selling city land for high-rise office and residential buildings, the latest trend for municipalities interested in urban infill is the sale of "air rights" over existing public spaces.
Interesting. Imagine a building above the parking lot next to City Hall, not totally grounded but standing on pillars.
At Wednesday's City Council meeting, City Clerk Carl Callahan called the concept "food for thought, but one thing we need to as a city, whether by policy or not, is to determine how to maximize" Bradenton's space limitations,
Let that conversation begin. This idea follows the New Urbanism trend sweeping the country as more Americans prefer walkable communities where they can live, work and play without commuter headaches. And Bradenton has been embracing this, so "air rights" fits this model.
Quote of the week
Sir David Tanner, Great Britain Rowing Team performance director, validated the marketing boast that Nathan Benderson Park, host of the 2017 World Rowing Championships, is a world-class rowing facility:
"I believe this is up to standard with anywhere else in the world as a rowing championship facility. It is truly impressive the investment by the local communities in this. ... It is a smart investment because it is not just rowing, although rowing is at the center of it."