Voters approve bed tax extension

Expanding the tourism development district countywide means improved parks, facilities and waterways for recreational areas in north Okaloosa County.

SHALIMAR, Fla., Oct. 7, 2021—Okaloosa County voters elected to expand the tourism development district countywide in a mail-in vote.

All ballots needed to be in by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

According to Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux, out of the 18,817 votes counted, the unofficial election results ruled 12,296 in favor of expanding and 6,500 opposed.

The election will be certified later this week.

Beginning March 1, 2022, Okaloosa County will now be one of 59 out of 62 counties in the State of Florida that collects bed tax on overnight stays countywide.

The tax only applies to short-term stays under six months at accommodations such as hotels, condominiums, short-term vacation rentals and campgrounds.

“Tourism tax has been collected on overnight stays in the south end of the county for decades,” said Okaloosa County Board Chairman Carolyn Ketchel. “Time has shown that the entire county feels the effects of tourism so the moment was right to let the voters decide on expanding countywide.”

The Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners approved a special election June 15 to give voters a chance to decide whether to expand the tourism district countywide. 

Until now, taxes were collected and spent on tourism-related initiatives in south Okaloosa County including Destin and the south Fort Walton Beach area and parts of Cinco Bayou and Mary Esther.

All areas of the county will now receive benefits from tourist development taxes.

The Tourism Development District typically brings in between $21.5 and $23.5 million in revenue per year. Collections in the expanded district will begin March 1, 2022. 

It’s estimated the 2,000-3,000 lodging rooms in the newly expanded district will add roughly $2-$3 million more in annual revenue.

Local tourism tax collection by the county clerk of court is set to begin Jan. 1, 2022. It is hoped local collection will provide more data for marketing and a better understanding of tourism impacts countywide.

Immediate plans as a result of the election include:

  • adding new Tourism Development Council members from across the county
  • inserting additional information about the northern part of the County in the annual tourism guide
  • integrating new tourism products into the “Little Adventures” marketing plan
  • working with all the cities on their capital plans
  • bringing on a few new tourism team members during the next 12 months
  • completing a detailed inventory of facilities and vendors by working with all cities, tourism-related businesses and other key stakeholders

The overall goal is to continue current tourism activities while incrementally ramping up efforts countywide and hitting full stride by this time next year.

More details on the special election can be found at TourismWorksForOkaloosa.com.

Okaloosa County news release

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