After robberies, Orlando urged to use hotel taxes for policing



OrlandoSkyline410Orlando and Central Florida’s Orange County are being asked by a police union to dedicate funding from hotel occupancy taxes toward additional policing, following a spate of armed robberies of hotels.

The Fraternal Order of Police said dollars from Orange County’s tourism development tax need to be spent on public-safety efforts in order to better prevent crimes in the Orlando area, the second-largest U.S. hotel market and home to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.

During the past few weeks, about a dozen hotels and restaurants have been robbed, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The hotels include a Red Roof Inn on International Drive and a Holiday Inn and a Homewood Suites near Orlando International Airport.

While violent crimes in Orlando fell about 3% in 2012 (the most recent year measured), Orlando’s rate of about one violent crime per 98 residents was greater than in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, according to the FBI. (Chicago and Miami were among cities with a higher violent crime rate.)

“The resources of local law enforcement agencies must be deployed to these areas to ensure our guests can enjoy their vacation in safety,” said Jim Preston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police’s state lodge in Florida. “It is our belief that some of the dollars raised by the tourist tax should help pay for the delivery of our services.”

With about 120,000 rooms, Orlando is the second-largest U.S. hotel market, trailing only Las Vegas’ nearly 170,000 rooms, according to hotel research firm STR.

Last year, Orlando’s revenue per available room rose 7.8% from a year earlier to $72.04, meaning that Orlando’s 2013 hotel room revenue was about $3.15 billion. With Orange County levying a 6% tourism development tax, the rate suggests that about $189 million was collected from hotels last year.

Still, the request touches upon what may be a hot-button issue — the usage of hotel taxes. Two-thirds of those funds are committed to tourism promotion or the acquisition, build-out and operation of convention centers, sports stadiums and arenas, according to the Orange County tax code.

The remainder is dedicated to repaying debt service on bonds used to finance such construction activities. None of those tax funds are earmarked for local government operations.

Conversely, Nevada’s Clark County levies a 12% occupancy tax on Las Vegas hotels, and more than 60% of those funds (estimated at more than $300 million a year) are committed to non-tourism operations such as public works, local schools and transportation upgrades, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

About 14% of those occupancy taxes are directed to local governments, though nothing specifically is spelled out about police or public safety.

Universal Orlando representatives referred questions to Visit Orlando, which didn’t respond to a request for comment. Neither Visit Florida nor Walt Disney Co. responded to requests for comment.

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly. 

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