There will be some tweaking before the Oct. 1 arrival of a new fiscal year, but the advisory board for the Gulf County Tourist Development Council on Tuesday approved an initial budget and marketing plan for next year.
The budget must still be approved by the Board of County Commissioners.
The most striking aspect in the budget is the continuing growth of revenue from bed taxes, which are projected to increase by 11 percent compared to the current year and march past the $2 million for the second-straight year.
Bed taxes first eclipsed $1 million just five years ago.
“It’s been a very busy summer,” said TDC executive director Kelli Godwin, noting that over 4,000 people have visited the Welcome Center during the current fiscal year.
The summer months provided the biggest boost to bed tax numbers and thus far are skewing well ahead of last year, which itself saw record collections.
“It was just a banner year,” said parks director Billy Traylor, who said his crews had taken some 30 tons of trash this year from the county’s parks and beaches.
As for the coming year, each of the funds supported by the five bed tax pennies will grow, though the penny for the beaches is dedicated to the beach restoration project.
That project was put on hold again, from a scheduled start of Aug. 1 back to sometime in late September or early October, as the county has yet to receive the $2.8 million in RESTORE Act funds earmarked for the project.
The fifth penny for parks and recreation will grow, with more than $800,000 already in the bank, roughly reflecting the cash carried forward from the current budget.
That money is tentatively earmarked for improvements to the 10th Street Park in Port St. Joe.
Godwin said the TDC’s marketing approach had expanded from the 10th Street Park proposal, which is currently mired in controversy, to include all the county’s parks.
Traylor noted that most people don’t realize the TDC is charged with upkeep and maintenance of 32 county parks and boat ramps.
The 10th Street Park project was a focus of additional discussion as resident Christy McElroy renewed a plea from many of the property owners adjacent to 10th Street Park.
McElroy said the TDC meeting minutes of August 2014, the fifth penny was approved for a sports complex off Field of Dreams as the focus.
She continued a rallying cry by neighbors of the park who fear any expansion will take away precious green space, increase traffic and safety issues and exacerbate existing flooding issues.
She presented a petition signed by 125 signatures from people concerned about their “home values, green spaces and sprawl.”
The TDC’s marketing program for the coming fiscal year is $310,000, the largest expenses tied to the use of Google Ad words and digital advertising.
The most significant emphasis for those marketing dollars will be to grow “prime” season, the non-summer months, particularly the months between October and March in particular.
The TDC also proposes to spend $35,000 to market the county’s parks and another $15,000 in event marketing.
Another positive for the coming fiscal year is that the Tax Collector’s Office is in the process of installing software that will offer bed tax submittals online, more accurate numbers reporting and, hopefully, a method to better track non-compliance by rental operators.
The TDC board also approved two special expenditures.
Coming as a recommendation from the BOCC, the TDC board approved spending $40,000-$50,000 for the flag poles at the center of the “Honor Walk” to be constructed at Veterans Memorial Park in Beacon Hill.
And while the final numbers were not available, the advisory board expressed its support for providing dollars to assist the St. Joseph Historical Society in restoring the Cape San Blas Lighthouse lens and creating a maritime museum.
That recommendation also flowed from the BOCC.