Clerk having trouble collecting bed tax

Escambia County Clerk of Courts Pam Childers tried to deliver to the Board of County Commissioners her monthly report on Tourist Development (also known as bed tax) last Thursday, but Commissioner Jeff Bergosh wanted to know more about how the clerk was handling collections from Airbnb and VRBO renters.

The question gave the public a rare view inside the clerk’s operations. Childers revealed her office has over 200 hundred delinquent accounts, many involving the fifth-cent that started in April. The BCC passed the fifth cent in October 2020, giving the clerk nearly six months to get out the word to renters.

Apparently it hasn’t worked. Childers said the management of the two rental services, Airbnb and VRBO, had refused to start collecting the fifth-cent on rentals for the summer that were booked in January, February and March.

“So we sent out letters to owners and agencies that said you are still responsible, Here’s your date, which is why we’re having so much follow up now,” said the clerk. “So is there confusion? Yes, because those were booked back in January, February, and Airbnb did not change their website for Escambia County until the day – at least, that’s what they kept saying us.”

Childers said her office had sent out 186 letters about collection issues last week and had identified another 130. She said, “It’s pretty robust as far as a review right now on all these accounts.”

Commissioner Lumon May asked whether the Clerk could provide a list of delinquent renters, including hotels. The clerk said that state law prevents her from doing it.

“I can tell you that I can go to their hotel, and I can put pink slips on every window,” said Childers. “That has been the threat in our past year. If you don’t get it current- because we’re not talking $1000 and $2000, we’re talking $15,000, $30,000 – I will go out there and personally put a pink slip on every window because that is allowed.”

She continued. “That is my public stand of who you will know, but no, I cannot share that information with you. I will tell you that we are pretty current.”

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1 thought on “Clerk having trouble collecting bed tax

  1. I’ve never been able to understand why we don’t have contracts for automatic collections through the agencies like other counties do, Rick. She has explained it a variety of ways, and it seems that it comes down to her office has tried but failed to get them. Maybe somebody can explain why it is that Escambia has particular trouble with this?–I don’t know if it has something to do with local ordinances, etc.

    I was happy that after many times at the podium, I was finally able to get across to a lot of people that Escambia isn’t handling our LET fund paperwork correctly on the back end, per state statute and an AG opinion that it all needs to be coming back to the County, and not leaving ECSO responsible for logging receipts etc. She admitted that it was a plan put in place by Sheriff Morgan and Bill Eddins, and that she had to work with what they offered her. That still surprised me; I wasn’t aware that the SAO can override the function of a constitutional officer, but maybe they can legally as well as politically.

    At any rate, while I made clear I was not speaking for ECSO in any way, the documentation I was referring to was provided to me by ECSO, including the pertinent section of the AG opinion that it needed to come back to the County. And Ms. Childers said that is it common “with new administration” (I guess she was referring to the constitutional office of the sheriff as administration) to revisit policies. It will be interesting to see what they decide on, if something new. I still have questions as to why David Morgan was ever allowed to become the repository of County bookkeeping to begin with. As I said that night, I understand that the Clerk’s doesn’t audit the Sheriff’s Department. But LET funds aren’t ECSO funds–they’re BOCC.

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