York County eyes how to spend hospitality tax

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comFebruary 15, 2014 

— York County Council recently passed the first reading of an ordinance that would guide how hospitality tax dollars are spent, but officials are still mulling what projects get top billing.

“I would love to see the decisions based on what project generates more h-tax (hospitality tax) dollars,” said Councilman Chad Williams.

Williams, whose district includes part of Fort Mill, called for a workshop to outline what the ordinance should and shouldn’t include by the third and final reading. A public hearing is still needed, too.

The ordinance would create an 11-member panel – one from each of seven districts and four at-large representatives of the hospitality industry – to evaluate proposals and make recommendations to Council. The ordinance also would prioritize the types of requests given top consideration, starting with recreational facility investment.

“I agree we need to give some direction with projects,” Williams said. “I’m not sure we’re at the point where we know that sports is No. 1, although I think we have a pretty good idea that it is.”

Hospitality tax money comes from a 2-cent tax on unincorporated parts of the county. Main contributors to it are the restaurants and food vendors in the Carowinds area near Fort Mill and in Lake Wylie. Recreational facilities have been discussed in both areas, notably a park pushed by many in the Lake Wylie area on 50 acres already owned by the county near Crowders Creek.

Councilman Michael Johnson, who also represents part of the Fort Mill area, said sports facilities generate additional tax money by attracting large events.

“We’re going to try to put a priority to say, we believe we have the best chance of taking $1.8 million in hospitality tax revenue and turning it into $3.6 million in hospitality tax revenue by building sports fields,” he said. “That ought to be the goal of this Council.”

Johnson said projects would have to show they aren’t going to depend on the county long-term, possibly through public or private partnerships on issues such as maintenance.

“Those facility projects have to be self-sustainable,” Johnson said. “They have to have a maintenance plan in place for the facility.”

Council members must also decide how long a project can get money from the tax. The new ordinance allows for any current tax uses to remain on the prioritized list. Hospitality tax projects include promotion of festivals or other scheduled events.

Councilman Joe Cox said he doesn’t want Council to tie its hands creating a time limit for events to receive money.

“We’ve always tried to fund things to help them get started,” Cox said.

Councilman Bruce Henderson agreed events don’t need to be funded every year, but he doesn’t want to see a new system exclude festivals that can bring in tourism and tax dollars.

“I do want to scale back, but to totally pull the rug out from under some of these festivals that need some of these grants, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Johnson said he’s heard from festival organizers are concerned they will lose funding if the emphasis is put on recreation. Councilman William “Bump” Roddey said groups shouldn’t be thinking of losing “their” funding.

“I don’t want h-tax (hospitality tax) money to be someone’s crutch to continue their events,” Roddey said. “We do want to move events to where they’re sustainable on their own.”

Chairman Britt Blackwell said he isn’t against new recreational facilities and he will “dream big,” too. He said he wants to make sure new facilities don’t “create any adversarial situation without meaning to.”

“We want to make sure we’re complementing the cities and towns, and do that in a way where we’re not battling each other,” Blackwell said.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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