Bed tax collectors have questions for the Tourist Development Council. Meeting to be set
MIRAMAR BEACH — A group of local bed tax collectors — operators and officials of local accommodation providers who collect the 5% tax on accommodations charged to visitors — are laying the groundwork for what they hope to get from a joint meeting of the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) and the Walton County Board of County Commissioners.
Last month, county commissioners rebuffed a request from a number of bed tax collectors to call a special meeting of the TDC, but commissioners did agree then to schedule a joint meeting, open to the public, of the TDC and the commission.
Among the TDC's duties are to market the county to potential visitors, with a specific focus on bringing in high-income families, and fund the county's lifeguard program. TDC expenditures must, however, be approved by the County Commission.
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Calls for some sort of meeting to iron out issues of concern to many bed tax collectors have focused on a desire to get definitive answers to questions ranging from whether the TDC is, in fact, required to spend 40% of its revenues on marketing, and whether TDC counsel Clay Adkinson has any conflicts of interest in connection with his contemporaneous service as the county's interim counsel and as counsel to the cities of Freeport, DeFuniak Springs and Paxton, and to the Walton County Economic Development Council.
A request from Jason Cutshaw, interim executive director of the TDC, to schedule the joint meeting for a specific date, time and place is on the agenda for the county commission's July 13 meeting. The agenda item does not indicate whether the TDC or the County commission have a preferred time, place or date for the session, although July 20 has been mentioned as a possible date.
Tuesday's commission meeting is set for 4 p.m. at the county courthouse in DeFuniak Springs. A small group of bed tax collectors who met Wednesday evening in Miramar Beach are working to get a large crowd at the meeting.
That presence will be motivated by a desire to see the joint meeting scheduled, but discussion at the Wednesday meeting in a conference room at the Edgewater condominiums in Miramar Beach indicated that bed tax collectors also want to be on hand in the event that commissioners move to consider any other TDC-related issues on Tuesday.
Just two months ago, commissioners moved unilaterally, with no indication on their agenda that action was imminent, to terminate the contract of now-former TDC Executive Director Jay Tusa.
The ouster was led by Commissioner Mike Barker, elected to the commission in November, and was supported by Commissioners William "Boots" McCormick and Danny Glidewell. Opposing the termination were Commission Chairman Trey Nick and Commissioner Tony Anderson.
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At Wednesday's meeting of the bed tax collectors — which comprised Suzanne Harris of the Edgewater resort in Miramar Beach; Jeannie Dailey and Tracy Louthain of Newman-Dailey Resort Properties; Gary Brielmayer, general manager at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa; Amy Wise-Coble, general manager at Homeowner's Collection Vacation Rentals; and Jim Bagby, a local real estate agent and former TDC executive director — there was some indication that if there is no official effort to get answers to questions regarding TDC expenditures and legal representation, some bed tax collectors might work to get that information independently.
A possible avenue for that could be to get an opinion from the state attorney general's office and/or The Florida Bar on those questions, the bed tax collectors indicated Wednesday.
One thing that was clear is that bed-tax collectors — or at least the ones at the meeting — want some definitive action quickly from the county in lieu of taking action on their own.
"Waiting around for them, they're just going to keep kicking us along and kicking us along," Dailey suggested.
Louthain went as far as to suggest that, in the face of a lack of action from the county, bed tax collectors potentially should consider establishing a group independent of the county and the TDC to get their concerns addressed.
"How much longer do you wait?" Louthain asked.