TDC and Monroe County argue advertising vs. affordable housing

Can one be guilty of doing their job too well? That’s what the Tourist Development Council and the Lodging Association were asking officials at Tuesday’s TDC meeting in Key West. The question has been lingering since a February meeting in Marathon, when the Monroe County Workforce Housing Committee discussed the possibility of designating the TDC’s fourth penny, collected as a bed tax, as a possible funding source for workforce housing.

Some argue the TDC’s successful marketing efforts are a Catch 22. Although the Keys have experienced record increases in hotel rates and occupancy, so too have the cost of living, rents and property increased adding more demand to a stressed workforce housing supply.

Not everyone is convinced the means justifies the end.

“We are already funding this important issue,” said TDC board member Julie Fondriest. “It takes a paycheck to pay the rent. Our job is to create a paycheck for the working people.”

In addition to job creation, Fondriest referenced the fifth penny tax, or impact fee, which is already assigned to the county’s general revenue fund. Once collected, the county designates half of those funds (about $4 million) to the Land Authority for workforce housing that is generally used for buying land. Many contend the tourism industry is one of the few entities currently contributing to workforce housing — bolstering the TDC’s argument to leave the fourth penny in place.

“To cut our budget by 25 percent is very alarming,” said TDC board member Rita Irwin. “I don’t know if there is a model that says once you reach a certain level of success, that you cut back. It seems very short sighted.”

Others joined Irwin in opposing the measure. Spottswood Properties’ Cliff Taylor, Key West Chamber head Virginia Panico and Lodging Association President Jodi Weinhofer all cautioned against reduced marketing funds. Taylor called for more developers to step up, while Weinhofer and Panico called for stiffer penalties and enforcement for illegal rentals.

But County Mayor Heather Carruthers said the discussion item was only one option and urged the TDC and others in the tourism industry to consider every possibility for affordable workforce housing. Although Carruthers said she would “agree to NOT touch the fourth penny,” she didn’t address the county’s ability to amend the use of the fifth penny; something that will likely be discussed at a Monroe County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee meeting on Friday, June 17.

Currently, the fourth penny is designated for the TDC’s district advisory committees’ capital projects and promotions, with an estimated value of $9 million in the upcoming budget year. The tax was created through a referendum in 2009 and would take a 4-1 majority vote on the BOCC to begin the amendment process. Several BOCC members have already indicated they would not be in favor of the amendment.

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