Ponte Vedra Beach renourishment supporters urge county commission to raise tourism tax

Measure under consideration increases "bed tax" to 5% may help with funding

By Jonathan Stacey - Meteorologist

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - More than a year after Hurricane Matthew and a more than six months after Hurricane Irma hit the coast of Ponte Vedra Beach residents are now attempting to re-nourish their beach in order to protect their property from even more beach erosion.

A group called Save Ponte Beach is leading the efforts to replenish the sand and rebuild the dunes, but those efforts are costly.

The coastal engineering firm, Oslen Associates, released a 25-page presentation detailing their preliminary findings and recommendations for beach re-nourishment.  They say their beach is entirely recoverable, and it can be restored to better protect it from future hurricanes and Nor'easters. 

But to get the work started it will cost homeowners and it may even cost visitors. As of Sunday, neighbors have raised some $10,000 of the $260,000 needed.

According the Save Ponte Vedra Beach Facebook Page​ the funds will pay for the following:

  • $110,000 Olsen Associates 
  • $100,000 Lobbying 
  • $40,000 Economic Consultant 
  • $10,000 Legal representation and Other

The group is also wanting tourists to chip in, and to get that done they've asked the St. Johns County Commissioner to consider a raising the current 4% bed tax to 5% also called the" 5th cent."

The tourist development tax essentially taxes any living accommodations, including hotels that are rented out for a 6-month period or less.

Currently, the tax brings in about 5 million dollars every year in revenue for the county, but a state statue determines how the money is dispersed.

Supporters say it's seems logical since many of their visitors are here to enjoy their beaches.

But at this point everyone who sits on 5-member county commission isn't in favor of the increase. Commissioners James Johns and Jeb Smith voted against the measure which also amended during last week's commission meeting. Read notes from the discussion.

We reached out to Johns and Smith for a comment on the matter, but didn't hear back from Smith.

However, Johns responded writing:

The issue of beach re-nourishment is an important one for our county, it's homeowners and those who depend on tourist dollars for their livelihood. I take it seriously as do my fellow Commissioners.

Typically the Federal Government plays an important role in this process through permitting and assessments by the Army Corps of Engineers. In this specific instance since the erosion was primarily caused by two major hurricanes, FEMA should also be involved.

I have corresponded recently with the District Manager for FEMA and also have contacted Congressman Ron De Santis and Senators Nelson and Rubio asking them all to expedite this process.

There also may be a role for our state government, I have contacted Governor Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran asking them to expedite state funds for this project.

I do not believe that a new tax is the solution. It provides insufficient funds within a reasonable time.  It could also have a detrimental impact on businesses which depend on tourism for the majority of their income. I will continue to work with our Federal and State officials to find the funds necessary to complete this important project.

Coastal engineers say if all goes as planned the sand replacement project wouldn't begin until May 2020.​
 

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