SHALIMAR — The Okaloosa County Commission agreed on Tuesday to work toward expanding the tourist development tax district into a countywide operation.
With voters’ approval in 2020, the countywide district would generate bed-tax revenue to pay for infrastructure upgrades, recreational amenities and other projects in cities such as Crestview, Niceville, Valparaiso and Shalimar, as well as the unincorporated area.
The existing district and the county Tourist Development Council were approved by the commission in 1989. The council's expenditures are funded by the 5-cent bed tax paid by visitors staying overnight in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Okaloosa Island, Mary Esther and Cinco Bayou.
“We’re losing a lot of money” by not charging the bed tax throughout the county, said District 1 Commissioner Graham Fountain, whose district includes a part of Crestview, at the commission's budget policy discussion workshop.
The county anticipates collecting a little more than $20 million in bed-tax revenue this fiscal year. An additional $2.25 million worth would be generated annually if the district gets expanded, according to county information.
Per state law, the potential expansion would need to be approved by a majority of voters. A referendum on the issue would need to be held in the area of the county that would come into the district’s boundaries, County Attorney Greg Stewart said.
Commissioners agreed to work on getting the referendum on the November 2020 general election ballot. If voters approve it, the countywide district would take effect two months after the election.
“North Okaloosa County is never going to supplant the city of Destin as the tourism capital of Northwest Florida or of Okaloosa County,” said District 3 Commissioner Nathan Boyles, whose district includes a part of Crestview. But, “I still think there is a role to be played. And there is a good bit of revenue to be generated.”
The potential countywide district could be split for budgetary and fairness purposes. For example, revenue from the area north of Cinco Bayou would be spent only on projects and other items within that area, while revenue from the south would pay only for south-side expenses.