Tourist Development District Expansion

Expanding Opportunities for Countywide Tourism Revenue

The Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners has approved a special election for the consideration of a countywide expansion of the Tourist Development Taxing District. The mail-in ballots must be returned by October 5, 2021. Eligible voters will have the opportunity to elect whether the Tourist Development Tax, currently charged to overnight stay guests of short-term rentals such as hotels and vacation rentals, in the south end of the county should be collected from overnight stay guests countywide. Overnight lodging guests impact the local economy in many ways; by creating jobs, contributing to sales tax, contributing to the revenues of small businesses, and in a Tourist Development District, they also fund tourism-related amenities, activities, environmental improvements, protection, restoration and preservation. MAP TO CURRENT TOURISM TAXING DISTRICT

Frequently Asked Questions

When do we vote on the Tourist Development or Bed Tax Expansion?

Eligible voters will receive a special election, mail-in ballot in September. Ballots must be returned by October 5, 2021.

Why the decision made for a mail-in election? 

The mail-in ballots are substantially more cost effective for taxpayers than an in-person election. It's a simple yes/no vote opposed to candidates in a race against one another.

Who gets to vote?

Registered voters outside of the current tourism development taxing district will have the opportunity to vote, including 117,000 voters located in Shalimar, Niceville, Valparaiso, Crestview, Laurel Hill and the remaining portions of the cities of Fort Walton Beach, Mary Esther and Unincorporated Okaloosa County not currently in the Tourism District. Registered voters in the existing district do not get to vote because they have previously voted in favor of collecting bed tax in their district.

Are my taxes going up because of the Tourism Development Expansion?

No - Tourism Development Taxes are also known as 'Bed Taxes' and are funded solely by visitors staying in overnight lodging accommodations. Unlike a sales tax, which is levied on a variety of goods and services, this tourist development tax is collected from the visitor by short-term rental providers only like hoteliers, vacation rental management companies, campgrounds, even self-managed properties listed through online booking agents such as Vrbo and airbnb. Overnight guests remit their tourism tax, in addition to sales tax on their accommodations.

Why is this being considered?

Nearly 3,000 existing lodging units would be added to the district if voters approved the ballot measure, meaning the lodging outside of the current taxing district would collect from overnight guests. This will open doors for the entire county to benefit from Tourism Development Tax Dollars as these units are already being occupied by overnight guests vacationing and doing business in the current taxing district. Expanding the tourism district will help to diversify the amenities and experiences we're able to offer guests of our county. Since tourists also contribute to regular sales tax on goods and services, they are significant contributors to our local economy, relieving citizens from shouldering the entire tax burden, including the 1/2 cent infrastructure sales tax and the 1/2 cent school tax - both strongly supported by voters over the past few years.

What does the Tourist Development Revenue pay for?

Tourism Development revenue must be spent on tourism-related marketing and projects as directed by the Florida State Statute 125.0104. By local ordinance, Visit Destin-Fort Walton Beach has specified a high-level purpose for each of the 5 pennies currently collected on the dollar. 1.) Provide & improve parks, beaches, destination facilities & waterways. 2.) Public safety services, protection and capital investments under 125.0104(5). 3.) Operations, maintenance, expansion, renovation and reconstruction of tourist destination facilities, convention center, visitor welcome center and the promotion of convention center and tourist destination facilities. The 4th and 5th pennies are dedicated to tourism services, promotion and advertising.

Can the money be used to pave dirt roads?

No - Tourism Development Tax revenues can only be used to fund public facilities related to tourism, as long as a study is performed to show it is needed to increase tourist-related business activities. While technically a road providing access to a boat ramp, for example, could be paved but funds cannot be shifted to pave a rural residential road not related to tourism per Florida law. The cities and county, with strong voter support, did pass a countywide infrastructure surtax in 2018. The funds generated from the half-cent sales tax are allocated to help fund road projects including neighborhood dirt roads. With no relationship to tourism, the County already has a 5-year capital plan for these types of improvements.

Can the money be used to build new schools?

No - The school district, with strong voter support, did pass a countywide 1/2 cent tax allocated toward school district projects, which tourism contributes to as consumers of other goods and services. Per Florida law, tourism monies can only be spent on tourism-related projects, a standard which schools would not meet. Tourism visitors do not attend Okaloosa Schools.

Is Tourist Development Tax unique to Okaloosa County?

No - 62 of Florida's 67 counties collect tax from overnight stay guests. Anywhere from 2% to 6% is charged on overnight short-term rental stays. Click HERE to learn more.

How many of the 62 counties, collecting Tourist Development Tax, do so countywide?

58 out of 62 collect the tourist development tax countywide. Only Okaloosa, Bay, Nassau and Miami-Dade are not currently collecting countywide.

If voters agree to expand, will historical collections in Destin-Fort Walton Beach be spent in the expanded area?

No - Historical bed tax collections, from the current tourism district, will ONLY be utilized in the same area it was collected in.

How do I learn more about Bed Tax?

What else do I need to know? 

Ballots will start going out September 15, 2021. Follow these steps to make your vote count: 1.) Mark your ballot. 2.) Insert your ballot. 3.) To validate your ballot be sure to Sign, seal, date and address your return envelope. 4.) If your envelope is not already postage-paid, one first-class stamp is required. 5.) Return by 7pm (CT) October 5, 2021.* Click HERE to learn more. Click HERE to view ballot language.

*If you're unable to put your ballot in the mail, you may hand-deliver your ballot to the Crestview or Shalimar Office of Elections. Questions on the election process? Call 850-689-5600.