Jeff Chase, secretary for the Central Florida Vacation Rental Manager's Association, moderates the association's monthly meeting at Capone's Dinner Theatre. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
WINTER HAVEN – When the Polk County Tax Collector’s Office decided to hold an event focusing on taxes and the vacation homes, and scheduled it to be held at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, there was only one reason that particular location was chosen, said Christopher Jaramillo.
“It’s a great location for an event like this,” said Jaramillo, the manager of economic development taxes and enforcement at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
It was not intended, he said, to make it easier for the sheriff’s office to investigate a business owners’ tax status, he added.
“Trust me, there is nothing going on there,” Jaramillio said.
The Polk County Tax Collector’s Office is sponsoring a TDT – or tourist development tax academy for the vacation home industry. It will be held on Wednesday, April 25 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the sheriff’s office’s Operation Center on State Road 540 between Winter Haven and Lakeland.
“We do these on a biannual basis,” Jaramillo said. “We’re jaw-packing three hours of speakers, that we think will be relevant to your business.”
The main speaker, he said, will be Melony Bell, the Polk County commissioner, who will talk about the tourist development tax and what it means for businesses in the hospitality field.
This is particularly relevant in Northeast Polk County in Davenport. Although traditionally an area where the main business was citrus growing, in the past decade the area has grown rapidly with a steady influx of new residential subdivisions, as well as another key industry: vacation homes.
Those are fully furnished houses made available for short term rental by visitors and tourists. Families that come to the area have taken advantage of the opportunity to get a house with multiple bedrooms and a private pool, rather than crowd the entire family into a hotel room.
The industry has grown so much in recent years that it introduced a new certificate program for members. David Leather, a member of the CFVRMA who helped write the exam, said it’s now available on the association’s Web site.
“It is now online,” Leather said. “At the moment this is only available to our full time members. If you’re not a member, sorry, you can’t take the test.”
It costs $65 to take, and provides a wealth of useful information to property managers, he added.
“You can store that module on your computer and use it as a reference,” he said.
Jaramillo acknowledged that part of the goal of holding an event like this is to educate business owners about the TDT – which is a tax on rooms made available to rent in the county, with the money being used to promote tourism throughout the county.
The Tax Collector’s Office holds these Tourist Development Academies on a regular basis as a forum open to anyone who owns or manages short-term rental properties in Polk County, and the businesses that serve them. It’s designed to provide a casual setting for owners and managers to meet individually with the people in the governmental agencies that serve them.
Jaramillo noted that Polk County’s tax collector, Joe Tedder, “is very passionate about them,” because he recognizes how important the vacation home industry is to the county. Vacation-home rentals generate more than half the tourist-development tax money in Polk. The academy offers educational programs on laws, regulations and rules governing vacation-home rentals.
“What we recognize with these events is that educating the industry, the vacation home industry, is very important to us,” Jaramillo said. “Our goal is to be proactive. We realize there are a lot of questions about tourism development taxes.”
Jaramillo talked about the upcoming academy this morning, during the monthly meeting of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group representing the people who manage vacation homes in Central Florida. A lot of the members come from Northeast Polk County, which is why the moderator of the meeting, Jeff Chase, urged those members to attend academies like this one whenever they can for the educational value they offer.
“If anyone is a voter and a resident of Polk County, you’ll want to attend this,” said Chase, the CFVRMA’s secretary. The meeting was held at the Capone’s Dinner Theatre on U.S. 192.
Allan Oakley, the marketing director for the vacation home management firm Alexander & Associates, said that if Polk County wants this industry to continue to thrive, commissioners should consider reducing the tax burden and regulations imposed on this industry, as a way to become more competitive with Osceola County, where he now runs his business on Oak Street in downtown Kissimmee.
“We’ve been in Osceola County only, but we just started to edge into Polk,” Oakley said. “Literally a week ago we took on our first vacation home in Polk, when one of our homeowners in Osceola bought a home in Polk.’’
Although Oakley will be managing this property, he added, “Operating costs in Polk are much higher – much, much higher – than in Osceola. The day to day operation of a house in Polk is much higher than Osceola.”
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