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TDC Funding for Security/Protective Services-An Allowable Use: Ramswell's Presentation

Prebble Q Ramswell Presentation to the Tourist Development Council April 2015

Background

Destin’s year-round population is approx. 13,000.

Tourists cause the population to rise to an average of 70,000, and a high of nearly 100k beginning with Spring Break and peaking during the “100 Days of Summer.”

These numbers are evidenced by Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), Destin Fire Control District (DFCD), and Destin Beach Safety (DBS) calls for service and attendance records - All show a sharp increase in March, another sharp increase in May; numbers high until Labor Day weekend when there is typically a sharp decline mid-September. The increases correspond with the weeks of spring break and the area’s traditional “100 Days of Summer.”

The City of Destin budget is based on property values and fees generated from our year-round population.

I know you’ve heard this all before. However- we are facing serious safety issues as a result of trying to support a tourist population that causes us to grow at least 5x in size on a budget this is built on our year-round population.

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The issues are increasing- not just based on service calls from OCSO and DFCD. In 2013, following an increase in drownings and rescues in the pass, a lifeguard tower and jet ski was added. This year saw the first drowning on Destin beaches during on-duty hours in nearly five years. Unfortunately, it highlights the fact that our beaches are understaffed due to financial constraints. Before Memorial Day, Destin lifeguards are each responsible for 1-2 miles of beach. There is only one full-time employee (the Beach Safety Chief) and no water-front HQs or command tower. This leads to less coverage and longer response times, particularly in the shoulder and off-seasons when the Beach Chief is the sole employee.

I ask that you compare this with Okaloosa Island’s beach safety division which has five full-time employees, a command tower, and a waterfront HQs. This is despite the fact that Destin has nearly double the beach and double the tourists as Okaloosa Island- evidenced in part by the amount of bed tax collected in Destin- 64% for FY2014, or $9.8m of the total 14.7M collected in the county. Further, the issues faced in Panama City Beach this spring break, and their subsequent alcohol ban, will likely lead to an upsurge in Spring Break attendance in our area next year.

Getting to the Ask

The TDC does an excellent job of promoting and marketing our area. However, at some point the number of tourists begins to negatively affect the quality of service and the infrastructure of the very attractions that drew tourists in the first place.

The primary victim right now is safety, but I have what I believe to be a viable option for funding to support, protect and enhance the TDC’s ability to increase tourism and visitor spending.

I know we all want the same thing- a beautiful, top-notch, and safe tourist destination that we are also fortunate enough to call home. In fact, the Okaloosa County tourist development plan ordinance states: “An essential component of product improvement and promotion is to provide a safe environment for the use of the beaches, waters and facilities.”

We work so diligently to bring tourists to the area; it is incumbent upon us to also provide for their safety while they are here. It is in this vein that I want to share an option with you that has enabled other cities to use TDC funds to address safety. I believe this is a viable and potentially necessary option that provides you with the means for allowable funding to support, protect and enhance the tourists you have worked so hard to get here.

Authorized Use of Revenue I know that TDC funds must be carefully spent and only within the parameters set for allowable expenditures by Florida State Statute 125.0104. Many cite the 1990 legal opinion that found funding law enforcement patrols was not an allowable expense. However, this finding has been countered by two important changes:

-The first was an amendment to the state statute which added the phrase “however, if tax revenues are expended for an activity, service, venue, or event, the activity, service, venue, or event must have as one of its main purposes the attraction of tourists as evidenced by the promotion of the activity, service, venue, or event to tourists” which clearly allows for providing services. -The second was the AG declining to take a position on whether certain expenditures, instead leaving it up to the county to decide.

Using TDT funds to provide for security and protective services within the capacity of an event or venue would be an ideal way to provide a safe and secure environment for our tourists. Such expenditures on protection will serve to promote tourism by showing visitors we care and provide for their safety while they are here.

Funding for Special Events/Venues

As defined in the Florida Statutes (125.0104), events and venues are authorized uses of revenue. In fact, Panama City Beach now uses “event” to define Spring Break.

Spring Break Special Event (Panama City Beach) General funding of law enforcement and first responders is not authorized, however, it is an authorized use for security/protection during special events and at venues. As such, defining “Spring Break” as an event has allowed the Bay County Tourist Development Council to fund police/sheriff protection during Spring Break as special event security since at least 2013. This year they increased the amount of money spent on this special event security to $300,000. The money is split between the Bay County Sheriff's Office and Panama City Beach Police Department to help more officers patrol the beach and interact with students and other tourists during the weeks of spring break.

Consider Destin in this same capacity. We have the same Spring Break “event”– plus, we have a bigger main event— what we all affectionately call the “100 Days of Summer.” We could fund OCSO and DFCD for protective services on the beach. Even if you think summer might be a stretch, there are still other possible avenues. Remember that the services phrase in the statute applies to events and VENUES. Consider our two largest venues– Crab Island and the HarborWalk. Both in serious need of security and protective services, both tourist destinations, both venues. You may recall the Crab Island town hall in which a safety corridor was considered to be an excellent option, almost unanimously. With designation as a venue, the TDC could provide DFCD or OCSO with funding to have first responders on a fire boat in the corridor– reducing response time significantly and perhaps even saving lives. By rebranding and appropriately defining such attractions as “venues,” the TDC can now provide funding for security services. Such expenditures on protection will serve to promote tourism by showing visitors we care and provide for their safety and ours while they are here.

I didn’t just read the statute, do some research, and come up with this on my own. I also called and spoke with the PCB TDC attorney and a PCB TDC councilmember, and was provided the statute, the amendment, and other relevant information. I have also been in touch with the Florida League of Cities. The requirement for such funding of events and venues is promotion of the event or venue- it must be in advertising. HarborWalk is already advertised; Spring Break and summer vacation on the Emerald Coast- already advertised. Crab Island- also already in marketing materials.

Imagine the potential…

Welcome to Florida’s Emerald Coast- Not only do we have the most beautiful beaches, they’re also the safest.

I implore the TDC to consider these options- options that are already being used in similar communities. I am aware that the OCSO, DFCD and DBS have all appeared to you before pleading their cases. These law enforcement officers and first responders know firsthand how dangerous not having enough officers can be. They come before you seeking funds because they see a significant need and have the statistics to back up what they are seeing out on our beaches, at our venues and on our streets.

Using TDT funds to provide for security and protective services within the capacity of an event or venue would be an ideal way to provide a safe and secure environment for our tourists. Such expenditures on protection will serve to promote tourism by showing visitors we care and provide for their safety while they are here.

OCSO has provided me with an estimated cost of $270,000 to pay for two officers at the Harborwalk Festive District and two officers on the beach for Spring Break and 100 days of summer.

DFCD has provided me with an estimated cost of $80,000 to pay for the fire boat being deployed and stationed at Crab Island during Spring Break and the 100 Days of Summer.

Destin Beach Safety is in dire need of full-time time lifeguards (in addition to a waterfront headquarters).

The foundation is in place. Tourists come in ever-increasing numbers. Promotion and marketing of our area, events and venues is already- and continues to be- highly successful.

Imagine the potential if we utilize concern for safety as a draw to our already beautiful destination.

The ability to fund protective/security services for events and venues will enable Destin and other municipalities in our district to continue to attract the tourists and visitor spending that allowed us to collect $14.7min bed tax last year. Perhaps even more importantly, it will not only protect our brand image but offer the opportunity to market ourselves in a new light- “not only the most beautiful beaches, but the safest.”

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

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