By Sara K. Clarke
Orange County’s hotel taxes for the month of September soared by 99.4 percent over a year earlier, after including a big boost from a secret settlement the county received from online-travel company Expedia.
Orange County reported that it collected $19.3 million for the month from the tax, which is charged on short-term rentals, mostly hotels and motels, or nearly double the $9.7 million collected for the same month a year ago.
County Comptroller Martha Haynie confirmed the tally for September 2011 included the Expedia court settlement. But Haynie added that she is prohibited by law from breaking out the settlement amount.
“Sometimes we have audit adjustments or settlements that come in … and they’re counted in the month in which they’re received,” she said.
Orange County officials sued Expedia in 2006, saying the company should pay hotel taxes on the rate it charges customers, rather than the wholesale rate they pay to acquire blocks of hotel rooms in bulk.
Sources with knowledge of the settlement deal, which was approved by county commissioners last week without public disclosure of the amount, have told the Orlando Sentinel that the figure is between $5 million and $10 million.
September’s tourist tax numbers suggest it could be on the higher end of that range.
Haynie indicated that even without the settlement, September 2011 collections paced ahead of September 2010. Tax collections have been up by about 7 percent this summer compared with 2010.
Using that 7 percent growth rate for September, and assuming there were no other adjustments, the settlement would be about $8.9 million.
Even excluding the settlement, the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 saw one of the county’s best tourist development tax collections ever, she said.
“Given the economic uncertainties of the national economy, we are fortunate to have experienced such strong resort tax collections,” she said. “These results are truly a testament to the diligence and perseverance of our local hospitality industry.”