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Do we really need unofficial tourist taxes? - Curt Yeomans

There are a lot of little fees that people could consider a form of taxation.

They could be as simple as the fees that you pay to your bank -- of all things -- for transferring money from your savings account to your checking account too many times in a single month (the "Transfer Tax").

Or, road tolls (the "Road Tax"), or that fee the airlines charge you when you change flight reservations over the telephone (the "I'm Guilty of Wanting to Talk to a Living Person Instead of a Computer Tax").

A gay friend of mine in college used to refer to the cover charge that the local gay bar charged for entry as the "Gay Tax" (The so-called "straight" bars in town rarely had cover charges). My friend was actually quite the proto-teabagger back then. He refused to go to the bar, due to the cover charge, and he often went around chanting, "No More Gay Taxes! No More Gay Taxes!"

But, an Associated Press story I read last weekend enraged me. Apparently, Tybee Island is in love with the "Tourist Tax," i.e. the fees that all visitors to the island have to pay to park virtually anywhere on the island.

The story talked about how the island now makes nearly the same amount of money from parking meters and parking tickets that it makes through collecting property taxes. The island is expected to collect $2.15 million through parking fees and fines during the current fiscal year, compared to $2.16 million in property taxes, according to the AP's report.

The AP also reported that, in 2010, the island made $20,000 more through parking than it did through property taxes. Parking fees for visitors (island residents get windshield stickers that make them exempt from paying the fees) began in 2007.

The article mentions that the city is now planning to turn free parking spaces located in front of several businesses into pay-to-park spots.

Now, here is the kicker. The story continues by mentioning property taxes have dropped by $180,000 from their peak period in 2009, when they brought in $2.34 million, and city officials claim they need to raise parking fees to keep the beaches going.

I call shenanigans on that. Parking fees that only visitors to the island have to pay is what I call a "Tourist Tax." If they were really well-intentioned on this issue, they would spread the pain around, to include island residents as well. You can't tell me no one who lives on the island goes to the beaches on the island.

By making the fees only apply to visitors, officials there are basically saying, "You can come here and see our little island, but only if pay us a fee to stop your vehicle on this tiny plot of land." My response to that is "How about I just keep driving around the island and not stop and spend my money on your island?"

Tybee Island is, without a doubt, a tourist attraction for Georgia, with its key selling point being the Tybee Island Lighthouse. But, I find it to be unconscionable to improperly take advantage of that status to make an extra buck (there are better, more above-board ways to make money off of tourists). These people are spending money in your restaurants and stores, and that money is going to help your local economy.

If you need money to maintain the beaches, then you need to find a way to pump more tourist dollars into the local economy, by getting more people to come to the island. You do not take steps that could potentially drive tourists away.

In the end, your tourism-based economy will fall apart.

Maybe we should all get out our picket signs, and start chanting, "No More Tourist Taxes! No More Tourist Taxes!"

Curt Yeomans covers government for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.