Walton County Tourist Development Council regular meeting

Story and photo by JENNA BAILEY

On Tuesday, August 7, at 9 a.m. the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) met for their regular meeting at the South Walton Courthouse Annex. The first action for the meeting was to approve the June 5, 2018 TDC meeting minutes. The motion passed to approve the minutes without changes.

Financial Report — For April 2018, the expense allocations were at 58% through the year with 39% spent year-to-date. The TDC revenue report states that the April 2017 actual revenue was $7,961,849. The percentage of the projected revenue was at 34.62%. April 2018 visitor center sales were at a total $7,014. For May 2018, expense allocations were at 67% and 49% spent through the year. The TDC revenue report states the May 2017 actual revenue was $10,241,543. The May 2018 percentage of projected revenue was at 44.53%. The projected revenue for FY 2018 is $23 million. May 2018 visitor’s center sales were at a total of $4,769. As of May 2018, total visitor’s center sales are at $47,309.

Tourist Development Tax (TDT) collection showed an 17.75% increase in South Walton
for June 2018, compared with the previous year. Walton County recorded approximately $5,421,242 in TDTs in June, an increase of approximately $817,073 and the highest ever recorded number for Walton County in any month.

“To be up so significantly in one of our most important months is tremendous,” says David Demarest, Director of Communications for Visit South Walton. “This really shows the value that both new visitors and returning guests see in our destination, and their contribution helps keep all aspects of our economy running strong, throughout the year.”

The Tourist Development tax, or bed tax, is a 4% tax collected on hotels, condos and other short-term rentals. The revenue supports tourism marketing and beach operations including cleaning and maintaining beaches, lifeguards, destination improvements and preservation initiatives.

New Business — First for new business was a request for recommendation to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) for approval of the following events for the North Walton Grant Support Program: Freeport BayFest ($3,000), Chautauqua Spring Wine Festival ($3,000), Freeport High School Basketball Tournament ($6,000), Historic Preservation Seminar & Tour of Homes ($3,000), Lakefest ($6,000), Marvel of Flight ($6,000). The motion carried to approve this item.

Second under new business was a request for approval and recommendation to the BCC to move forward with an RFP (request for proposal) Lifeguard Services. The proposal reads, “The Board of County Commissioners, Walton County, Florida (the “County”) is seeking to enter into an Agreement with a company who can provide lifeguard services for the publicly accessible beaches of South Walton.” The motion carried to approve this item.

Third for new business, a request recommendation to the BCC to make the following improvements to Grayton Beach State Park: 1) Install a crosswalk at the main park entrance off of Highway 30A. 2) Pave and maintain the trailhead parking lot north of Highway 30A. 3) Install and maintain a bathroom with a two-person capacity at the trailhead in exchange for access to easement of state park property for the construction of a multi-use path. Discussion of these installations included focus on when this project could be funded. It was decided to place this project in the FY 2019 budget.

The fourth and final item under new business was a request for consideration for the TDC to pass a resolution of support for “Trees on the Coast” projects located on CR-30A at Western Lake and Grayton Beach areas. Projects include providing and planting Sand Live Oaks adjacent to the multi-use path at no cost to Walton County.

Trees on the Coast (TOTC) is a 501(c)3 environmental non-profit. Since 2015, TOTC has donated and planted over 300 trees in public location. Their donated tree projects have enhanced streetscapes, parks, schools, cemeteries, Habitat for Humanity homes and Food for Thought. TOTC’s projects are at no cost to taxpayers or local governments. The motion carried for the resolution to be brought back to the TDC at a later time after further contemplation.

Marketing Dept. Updates — Upcoming activations: The Visit South Walton (VSW) team will attend two food-focused, upscale festivals in September 2018 with local chefs. These events are “Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet” and “Music City Food & Wine Festival.”

Print Collateral Update: Visitor Guide updates include a new edition which began distribution in June 2018. The 2019 Publication Lineup is Forever (Weddings); Explore (Outdoor Adventure); Savor (Dining); Upcoming Arts, Culture and Special Events Guide.

Spring Visitor Tracking Survey — 95% of spring visitors plan to return to South Walton; 75% of winter visitors gave South Walton a rating of 9.3 as a vacation destination. Top Activities were restaurants (95%), beach (95%), relax (89%), family time (80%).

Visitor’s Center Statistics — Visitor count: In May 2018 there were 1,535 visitors, a 9% increase from 2017. In June 2018 there were 1,604 visitors, a 10% increase from 2017. YTD (June 2018) there have been 14,351 visitors, a 15% increase from 2017.

Merchandise sales: In May 2018 a total of $4,768 worth of merchandise at the Visitor’s Center was purchased, a 49% increase from 2017. In June 2018 a total of $5,842 was made, a 63% increase from 2017. YTD, there $53,151 total of sales, a 95% increase from 2017.

Beach Operations — Effects of HB631 and Gulf Front Owners (GFO)’s demand for cease and desist on Beach Maintenance operations. Flagpoles: Beach Maint. Dept. working on solutions to continue pole maintenance. Possible relocation of some poles to public accesses. Holes: Beach Maint. Dept. will discontinue hole filling on private property and public beach that is not accessible. South Walton Turtle Watch: Turtle monitoring program top continue on private and public property/ Volunteer Beach Ambassador program: Program members to modify how they traverse the beach and engage beach visitor.

Beach Code Enforcement Updates — Effects of HB631 and GFO’s demand for cease and desist on Beach Code Enforcement 1) Private property: Beach Code Enforcement officers to traverse the private property associated beaches seaward of the MHWL and ECL. 2) Public property RBA’s & NBA’s: Beach Code Enforcement officers to continue to patrol public beaches as before. 3) Reactive Code Enforcement, Private Property: Complaints accepted for private property must be by property owner. 4) Public Property: Complaints accepted from any source. 5) Leave No Trace, Private property: BCE officers to issue Notice of Violation and follow up after 24 hrs. 6) Public property: Beach Maintenance Dept. to remove items left on public beach. 7) Wildlife Lighting Protection Zone: BCE officers limited in ability to enforce due to not being able to cross private property.

The next TDC regular meeting will be October 2, 2018 at 9 a.m. at the South Walton
Courthouse Annex.