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Orange County’s tourist tax collection drops 97% to new record low amid coronavirus closures

May’s numbers could be just as bad, comptroller says

ORLANDO, Fla. – New numbers from Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond show the county saw a record 97% drop in revenue from tourism tax dollars in April.

The 97% decrease equals $765,900 that would have been brought in by tourists visiting Central Florida but due to the coronavirus pandemic the area missed out on those funds.

The month of March saw a 56.6% drop in revenue, according to officials.

“This is the smallest amount of TDT we’ve ever collected in one month," Diamond said Wednesday during a news conference.

He added that May’s numbers, which will come out in July, could be just as bad.

Since 1979, anyone who has stayed at a hotel or vacation rental in Orange County has paid the Tourist Development Tax, or TDT.

During the month of March, tax collections were down 56.5% compared to March of 2019, totaling $13,633,000 according to Diamond. Most of Orlando’s theme parks were closed by mid-March. Diamond said although the level of decline in the collections is unprecedented. It was not completely unexpected.

“What we’re reporting in April is the sharpest decline ever,” Diamond said. “Not just percentage-wise, but dollar-wise. It’s also the smallest amount this office has collected since we first started collecting this in 1992.”

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Diamond said around $700 million of the TDT has helped fund major Orange County projects like the construction of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and the Amway Center and the renovation of the Citrus Bowl.

“There’s not going to be a lot of excess money around for a while,” he added.

It also helps fund the Orlando Ballet, the Orlando Philharmonic, and the Pulse Memorial Museum.

In January, the Mennello Museum of American Art gave a preliminary presentation to Orange County's Tourist Development Tax Application and Review Committee, as part of an initial step for the museum's $20 million campaign to expand their space to better allow for summer camps, wedding receptions, and other rental opportunities.

Executive Director Shannon Fitzgerald told News 6 that the campaign is now on hold.

“We’ve paused it,” she said. “We didn’t stop it. We had such great momentum and interest and a couple grant requests queued up but everything is on hold right now, just to review what’s next.”

Fitzgerald admits available opportunities like the TDT help keep the museum running.

"It’s absolutely critical to us," she said. "It’s critical to our programming. The exhibition behind me benefited from that funding."

“It’s a tremendous effect and I hope it turns around,” Diamond said. “Time will tell how we’re going to do. I think [the parks] are going to drive the numbers up. The question is how quickly do the numbers go up, how much do the numbers go up and how long is it going to last? If it’s going to last for a while, what’s going to need to change? Those are going to be some hard decisions that need to be made in the next few months.”

Diamond told News 6 his office does have quite a bit of available resources in their reserve fund, even after several months of this pandemic.

“We have one year’s worth of bond payments on the debt we have plus somewhere over $200 million in other reserves that we have,” he said. “It’s something that when you see your tourist tax dollars go from $30 to $13 million in one month, you need reserves. You don’t know what the next month is going to bring.”


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