ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.— Orange County leaders say they’re still collecting tens of millions of dollars less in the tourism development tax than last year.
And that’s an impact Orange County’s pocketbook is starting to feel.
What You Need To Know
- The tourist tax funds programs like the arts, Pulse memorial
- Mayor Demings, comptroller say cuts are inevitable
- About $80 million left in county reserve funds
- I-Drive restaurants seeing slightly more tourist traffic
Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond said the big reopening of theme parks such as Universal and Disney Springs following the statewide shutdown sparked by the coronavirus made June better than May or April, but county leaders are still seeing 89.2 percent less in tourist taxes collected than in June of last year.
“I mean $2 million is nothing compared to $24 million, and that’s why we’re having this kind of use of the surpluses,” Diamond said.
That shortfall is already having impacts as the county recently suspended the expansion of the Orange County Convention Center.
If collections continue to remain low, the loss of income may negatively impact arts and other well-known programs that benefit from the funding.
”Funding for the Pulse museum, funding for the science center, projects like that are very popular in the community [could be affected],” Diamond said.
In June alone, Orange County used $17 million in reserve funds to stay afloat —- and millions more in the months before that.
“That’s a lot of money,” Diamond said. “Like I said, that’s obviously not sustainable.”
When asked how long the county could continue to use reserve funds to stay afloat, Diamond said that depends on how the tourism tax collection goes in the coming months. Right now, about $80 million is left in reserve funds.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says it’s inevitable the county will have to cut back. “We’re gonna have to cut some spending, there’s no question about it,” Demings said.
Flippers Pizzeria Chief Operating Officer Ben Richardson said he hopes fears about the high number of coronavirus cases in Florida won’t stop the slow increase of tourists coming to Central Florida.
Flippers was hit hard when tourism dried up around its International Drive location, but now that theme parks have opened back up, Richardson says business is starting to come back.
“It’s a game-changer, you know, certainly put us in a much better position to survive,” Richardson said. “We’re cautiously optimistic, we're doing better than we expected to.”