For 34 years, thousands of Scientologists traveled to Clearwater and stayed in hotels owned by their church, enjoying a free ride from the 5 percent tourist tax that other visitors pay at Pinellas’ commercial hotels.
But that quietly changed earlier this year.
Pressed by the staff of Pinellas Tax Collector Diane Nelson, the Church of Scientology agreed to start collecting the tourist tax a few months ago and pay it monthly to Nelson’s office, the St. Petersburg Times has learned.
It’s a surprising reversal that will generate significant new revenue for Pinellas’ tourist promotion efforts.
But the change raises questions about another tax that Pinellas hotel guests pay – the 7 percent sales tax. Does the church now collect that tax from its guests too?
The Florida Department of Revenue, which separately administers the sales tax, wouldn’t say, citing state laws that make confidential almost all information about sales-tax payers.
The church, meanwhile, suggested it doesn’t collect sales tax on hotel stays. Read the full story here.