Tourism promoters oppose tourism funds for lifeguards
CINDY LANE | SUN
A bill is moving through the Legislature that would
allow resort taxes to be spent on lifeguards.
Tourism promoters asked tourism operators last week to fight a bill making its way through the Florida Legislature that would allow tourist development tax funds to be spent on hiring more lifeguards.
The Senate unanimously passed an appropriations bill on Friday, April 26, that includes an amendment allowing coastal counties with populations of less than 250,000 to use tourist development tax, or resort tax, funds to pay for lifeguards on public beaches.
The House had not yet acted on the bill as of press time. The bill could be amended again before the regular Legislative session ends on Friday, May 3.
Manatee County’s population is 333,895, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Robert Skrob, of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, sent an e-mail last week to Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, who directed a staff member to forward it to local tourism businesses.
“We must ask hoteliers, attractions and restaurants to contact their legislators; let them know we must stop this dangerous precedent of diverting tourism marketing dollars to public safety expenditures,” Skrob wrote in the e-mail.
A sample e-mail message that Skrob suggested that tourism operators send to legislators states: “While lifeguards are important for public safety, this represents a huge expansion of the allowable uses for tourist development taxes and is a real threat to funding resources for local tourism marketing activities… This change of the law opens the door to county governments from throughout Florida, together with police and fire unions, asking for similar exemptions to permit them to divert marketing dollars.”
“How about let’s ask, ‘Can you put a price on a life?’ ” said Collin Schmidt, of the Manatee County Public Safety Department’s Marine Rescue Division.
Less than a week before the e-mail, on Saturday, April 20, 6-year-old Lamontea Taylor was lost in Longboat Pass at the south end of Anna Maria Island sometime between 6 and 7 p.m. His body was found two days later.
Prior to budget cuts, lifeguard shifts during Daylight Savings Time, which was in effect at the time, were 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Manatee County lifeguards now end their shifts at 5 p.m.
Skrob wrote that "local tourism marketing activities support Florida’s recent job growth.
“Choking out that marketing by diverting funds will result in the loss of visitors to Florida, who instead will go to other communities throughout the country and the world.”