Bay County Commission Passes 5th Cent

With the likeness of a modern game or reality show, the suspense was lingering and drawn out.  Chairman Girvin surely is a student of this dramaticism.  The presentation from Dan Rowe, Executive Director of the Bay County Tourist Development Council (TDC) and President of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) was short and not even necessarily sweet.  It was almost as though he was there only because he needed to be.  Not that Rowe was unwilling, but it seemed apparent that this was all part of a strategy.

Last month the Bay County Commission passed with a majority vote to increase the bed tax collected from 3 cents to 4 cents.  In order to pass the 5th cent increase, a super majority vote was required, that is to say that 4 of the 5 commissioners had to vote in approval.  The lack of the super majority support on the 4th cent influenced Commissioner Mike Thomas to request that voting on the 5th be tabled until the regularly scheduled meeting that was held today so that his fellow commissioners could further educate themselves on the ramifications of this decision.

Out of the six that spoke up about the bed tax increase during the public comment section, 4 spoke in opposition of the increase and 2 spoke in approval.  Among the two one worked for St. Joe, and the other was Chairman Tannehill of the Airport Authority.  Tannehill mentioned that we cannot overlook this opportunity to help Bay County grow.  “Everybody asked for it, we’re giving it to them, we need to be sure it’s gonna work,” he continued.

After Chairman Tannehill spoke, Chairman Girvin asked if anyone else had any comments.  “This room is full of people that have concern either for or against this issue, I can’t beleive that nobody has anything else to say about it,” he said.

There were three motions total, with the first two from Commissioner Mike Thomas, which ultimately failed to carry.  The first motion was to allow the increase to pass with no restrictions, the second was to limit the bed tax to 5 years (the same as the resolution), but to allow the TDC to spend it as they see fit.

The third motion was made by Commissioner and TDC Board Member Mike Nelson.  Discussion led everyone down the road that resulted in some flexible conversation on the part of Chairman Girvin.  He seemed to be making suggestions as to what he could agree with.  Commissioner Bill Dozier at one point asked Chairman Girvin “I can’t be comfortable with the motion until you are comfortable with it, are you comfortable with it?”  Girvin: “Well, I don’t know!”  I had to chuckle as at this point, it seemed as though he was being purposefully suspenseful.

Commissioner Nelson’s initial motion was unclear and after many minutes of conversation it was restructured to adopt the Resolution that the TDC approved yesterday and  to approve the increase.

With no discussion left, Chairman Girvin ordered the roll called.  Going through the ranks, Thomas-yes, Dozier-yes, Gainer-no, Nelson-yes, Girvin- “Before I vote, I would like to make a comment.  No matter which way I go on this, someone will be upset.  I have great respect for many of the people on both sides of this issue,” he said.  “However I have to make the decision that is best for Bay County, as these are perilous times for us, and we need all the help we can get.  On one of the sides, not everyone has been completely honest with me.  I think we would be in err if we didn’t at least give it a try for five years, and with that said, I vote YES.”

When his vote came through after a suspenseful comment, you could hear the crowd sigh and almost burst into applause.  Tourism industry leaders could be seen with ear to ear grins as a seeming victory had been won, as if this was some sort of battle.  I’ve not always agreed in the past with the way the TDC has spent money, and I’m sure I won’t always agree with them in the future, but I think this was a good move and an innovative way to move forward.

Having said that, I just want to be clear on how this money will be spent, as there seemed to be some confusion at the meeting that these funds could be used to directly subsidise an airline – and I don’t think this is the case, as it was explained yesterday (someone, please chime in if I am incorrect).

This 5th cent will be used for advertising, in a cooperative relationship with an airline(s) that may have an interest in flying into our new airport.  For example: a string of advertisements in Chicago that would advertise special rates with X airline on trips to Panama City Beach, FL.  This would give incentive to the airline that their flights here would be well occupied and increase the number of people exposed to our beautiful area.

Good form Commissioners and Board members, good form!