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Okaloosa County takes a stand on bed tax being used for lifeguards fees

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 02:33 PM CDT
Okaloosa County takes a stand on bed tax being used for lifeguards fees story image
Okaloosa County is taking a stand after the state questioned it's use of bed tax money to pay for lifeguards.

Wastewatch report county leaders might even go to court, to save local taxpayers millions of dollars.

Okaloosa County is taking a stand after the state questioned it's use of bed tax money to pay for lifeguards.
Wastewatch report --- County leaders might even go to court, to save local taxpayers millions of dollars.

Laura Hussey "Right now, Okaloosa County is saving local taxpayers about a million dollars a year by using bed tax money, paid by tourists, to fund beach safety programs. But when the state's auditor general examined bed tax expenses in the wake of a spending scandal, he said that use of the money isn't allowed by law"
   
Okaloosa isn't on its own in this showdown with the state.
A number of counties use room taxes to keep lifeguards on the beach.

Rocco/Oka Island "I think the bed tax has been around long enough, there's plenty of money to go around, anything to use along close to where the hotels are, and where the tax is, I think that's a good idea, whether it's lifeguards or cleanup"
   
The Auditor General has now told the county it can ask the attorney general.
County Administrator Jim Curry says they might.
   
They're also considering working through the legislature, or even going to court.

Jim Curry "Yeah, that's an option. There could be as we call a friendly lawsuit filed so that you could have a court determination, a ruling if you will, so you're not left to it being an opinion, which at the end of the day is still just an opinion"     

The law that governs how bed tax money can be spent is fairly narrow.
The primary intention is promoting tourism.

At one feather gallery, owner David Baxter depends on that marketing to bring him customers.
   
But he's not against spending on beach safety.
David Baxter "Why not? To either have more lifeguards or give them more training or more equipment, whatever they need to make our tourists safe, so tourists can shop in the shops and eat at the restaurants downtown"
   
Denise Pearson says she's just thankful there are lifeguards on the beach.
She was surprised to hear that tourists are paying for them.

Denise "Well yeah, it does kind of make sense, but we use it too. So, half and half maybe? Compromise somewhere in there?"

Laura Hussey "The state does allow the use of bed tax money for upkeep of beach park facilities like these. This year, the county increased that amount by 500,000 half a million that won't come out of local property taxes."

If you have an idea for a story on government spending visit weartv.com and click on Waste Watch to tell us about it.

Okaloosa County takes a stand on bed tax being used for lifeguards fees
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