Now that we’ve celebrated freedom with three days of hot dogs, fireworks and ice cream (not in that order), let's get down to what summer is all about.
We’re five days into July and scallop season is in full swing. Residents of Crystal River and Homosassa know all about the influx of scallop-seeking boaters in their communities.
We’re going to break it down some but first a confession:
I’m not a scalloper. Never scalloped a single scallop. It’s less to do with the scallop and more to do with the fact I can’t swim. That’s a topic for a whole other blog but just understand that the scallop family and I don’t mix.
All I know about scalloping is what I’ve read in the Chronicle and on social media. Looks like great family fun.
It’s also somewhat of a sore spot for locals who see their streets, front yards and parking lots jammed with boat trailers during this time of year.
Citrus County tourism is under the political microscope these days. Tourism itself is going just great — $3.1 million last year in tourist tax revenue, up 21% from the year before, which was up 29% from the year before that. A half-million people visit Citrus County annually and they spend a lot of money while here.
The county collects 5% tourist tax on overnight stays — hotels, motels, RV campgrounds, that sort of thing. It’s the one tax that people A) don’t recognize they’re paying, B) don’t care they’re paying and C) don’t care how it’s used.
Think about it. When’s the last time you wouldn’t stay at a Holiday Inn because the local tourist taxes were too high? No local government on my vacation travels has ever told me how it spent my tourism dollars.
That makes tourist tax money about as free as it comes. Unfortunately, it can’t be spent willy-nilly — NO road paving! — and the idea is to use it to generate even more tourists.
Not getting too technical, but the tourist tax law defines a “tourist” as anyone who stays the night. Tourism is self-funded — whatever the tax pays for should be designed to get “heads in beds.” The county spends much of it on marketing.
Why is that significant? It’s a very big deal to Inverness, Floral City, Hernando and other east Citrus County communities who see Crystal River getting all the tourism accolades while they’re left in the dark.
County tourism folks have long pushed for Crystal River as the face of Citrus County tourism because of Three Sisters Springs and manatees. Their logic being once here, visitors will explore bike trails, freshwater fishing and area festivals.
That’s fine but their own surveys don’t back it up. A report from the county’s tourism consultant says that in both 2021 and 2022, none of the top 10 in-county attractions were outside Crystal River or the Homosassa Wildlife State Park. (The Citrus Avenue shopping district topped both lists.)
One can see how communities east of C.R. 491 feel slighted and somewhat insulted when the county’s tourism brand is, “Visit Crystal River.”
Now the conversation is taking an even stranger turn.
County commissioners have a seemingly simple item on their agenda Tuesday: $26,714 promotional for scalloping as a traditional family event. Seems logical.
In any year but this one. Residents are seriously turned off by growth right now and I’m not remotely kidding. They want commissioners to slow the growth some and the message is similar for tourism. Too many outsiders and newbies at one time.
We are feeling overrun and smothered. Political leaders need to see this and react to it. Simply inviting the scalloping world to Crystal River and Homosassa every July, with no plans in place to ease the negative effect on locals, is not in our best interest.
Citrus County loves tourists and it’s great to live somewhere that others visit. But it’s gotta be win-win. We can’t have so many visitors that the rest of us want to flee. And the east side of Citrus County needs to share in tourism success as well.
As for scallops, I'll be down by the lake with my net.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.