Island mayors propose lodging tax increase

By Crystal Cole
Posted 9/11/17

Mayor Robert Craft of Gulf Shores and Mayor Tony Kennon of Orange Beach are united in their consideration of a 2 percent increase in lodging tax to fund critical infrastructure improvements and …

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Island mayors propose lodging tax increase

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Mayor Robert Craft of Gulf Shores and Mayor Tony Kennon of Orange Beach are united in their consideration of a 2 percent increase in lodging tax to fund critical infrastructure improvements and cleanup for Alabama’s beaches.

“Transportation improvements are needed to solve challenges affecting us all. Investing in our infrastructure will help to ensure the sustainability of our vital tourism economy and improve the quality of life of our residents,” states Mayor Craft. Mayor Kennon adds, “As it becomes more difficult to obtain federal and state infrastructure dollars, it has become apparent to us that matching monies are needed. Hurricane Harvey has just shown us that a storm can pop up very quickly in the Gulf with devastating effects, thus reinforcing the need for evacuation infrastructure for the beaches of Alabama.”

Lodging tax in the Cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is currently set at a total of 11 percent. This is equal to or lower than other coastal destinations on the Upper Gulf Coast. In 2016, over 6.1 million visitors chose the Alabama Gulf Coast as their family beach destination. This record growth brings its own challenges related to demands placed on traffic and infrastructure affecting everyone in Baldwin County. According to both mayors, this initiative will be discussed in upcoming city council meetings, respectively.

Herb Malone, President and CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, congratulated both mayors for identifying steps to address cleanup needs and traffic congestion issues.

“As our number of guests continues to grow, our infrastructure needs to match that growth,” Malone said. “While any tax increase has the potential to impact occupancy, experience tells us that unsatisfactory beach conditions and excessive traffic congestion will also deter guests from choosing Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. This proposed increase will put our destination on par with similar, competing markets. Our guests deserve a safe and clean destination, and so do our residents.”

At a recent council meeting, Kennon said with several new condominiums coming and OWA increasing traffic for certain patterns that infrastructure was a large concern for the council and citizens alike.

“We’re inviting people here; we’re growing by leaps and bounds,” Kennon said. “I think it would be remiss of us not to be paying attention to our infrastructure needs and having a plan in place to rectify those problems. I think most people in Orange Beach think we have traffic problems and it’s going to get worse. I can tell you as mayor I have been approached by folks from every sector of our community, businesses, rentals, citizens, seniors and moms and dads. Everybody wants to know what we’re going to do about traffic.”

The Orange Beach mayor said the new tax would generate between $4 million and $6 million annually. He said he was open to alternative solutions which didn’t involve a tax, but said getting projects done becomes a lot easier when you don’t depend on state and federal agencies for the money.

“The money would be set aside for infrastructure, also for the beach cleaning, beach nourishment and also for keeping our beaches healthy,” Kennon said. “And any quality of life amenity we deem appropriate for our community. It will not be money going into the General Fund, it will not be money to buy gizmos and gadgets and more stuff. It would be set aside, as long as we’re here. Anybody can change that with the next council. It’s strictly for the purpose for which we are saying we are increasing this tax.”