Collier tourist tax debate raises questions about museums

NAPLES, Fla. Historic museums in Collier County could soon lose a major chunk of their funding.

Commissioners are taking a hard look at potential changes to the county’s 4 percent tourist tax, among the lowest rates in the state. Almost $2 million of that money goes toward funding five museums that are free for visitors.

A proposed 1 percent hike in the tourist tax rate would go for a new sports complex in the City Gate area east of Naples that’s designed to drum up offseason business. Commissioners are also thinking about redistributing how the rest of the revenue is spent.

It’s possible it could be directed away from the Collier County Museum, the Immokalee Pioneer Museum, the Marco Island Historical Museum, the Museum of the Everglades and the Naples Depot Museum.

“It would be a real blow to the museum,” Naples Depot volunteer Jean Bellezzo said. “I would hate to see it close. Everyone who comes in has positive remarks about the museum.”

There’s no talk of the museums closing their doors at this point. The museums have in the past few years sought more grant money and found ways to entice patrons to pay for extra services, like special events, Collier County Museums Director Amanda Townsend said.

But Townsend would like to see general admission remain free.

“We think of museums as a service that should be free, and we want to encourage people to participate in our heritage,” Townsend said. “We just don’t want to have any barriers.”

It’s a sentiment history buff and museum-goer Larry Nelson agrees with.

“Keep it free, that’s the way it should be,” Nelson said. That’s America.”

About 60 percent of the museum’s vistors are tourists and 40 percent are Collier County taxpayers, Townsend said.

Lisa Pasler, one of those taxpayers, wouldn’t mind seeing the museums start asking for donations but wants their funding to stay in place.

“You have to make things available to people who maybe can’t afford to do the things other people can do,” Pasler said. “Maybe they can’t afford to go to Silverspot to see a movie, but they can go to the depot and look at the trains or the Collier County museum and look at the animals.”

Commissioners will discuss how the tax revenue is distributed June 13.

Reporter:Nicole Papageorge
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Writer:Chuck Myron
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