By Stan Welch
The latest in a series of public forums held in Powdersville revealed a high level of support for the possible implementation of a proposed countywide hospitality tax to fund tourism and recreation related activities and projects. Approximately sixty people attended the town meeting, hosted by District Six Councilman Ken Waters. Also on hand was Sen. Kevin Bryant and Rep. Joshua Putnam, as well as representatives from the Imagine Anderson organization, who made a presentation on the proposed tax.
The hospitality tax, which would amount to two additional cents on each dollar spent on prepared foods or beverages in the unincorporated areas of the county, has to be used for tourism and recreational events and projects. Capital projects, such as facilities, infrastructure and even roads to improve access to such facilities are possible uses.
Waters began the discussion by asking for a vote of those for the tax, those against it, and those willing to be persuaded by appropriate information about the tax. The rough percentages of those present were sixty per cent (for), forty per cent (against) and thirty five per cent (willing to listen).
Rex Maynard and Joe Drennon made their pitch for the countywide tax by pointing out how woefully low the current per capita expenditure for recreational uses is in Anderson County. Currently, the county and its various independent recreation providers spend just $2.87 per person.
They also pointed out that every municipality in the county has already adopted their own form of this tax, and would retain that form. Approximately half of the county’s population already pays this tax; the proposal is simply to make it countywide. To do so would generate approximately $2.7 million in annual revenues to be used in promoting tourism and recreation across the county.
Three examples of facilities that could benefit in the northern end of the county include the Dolly Cooper Park, the Hurricane Springs Park and the Williamston Mineral Spring Park. In fact, the Mineral Spring Park has undergone substantial improvements and renovations, all funded by the hospitality tax.
In addition, just this week, West Pelzer approved and executed a loan to construct Chapman Park, pledging future hospitality tax revenues to repay the money. The decision allows the town to go ahead and build the park all at once instead of in phases.
According to the proposal developed by Imagine Anderson over the years, the funds would be distributed to various entities, including non-profit recreation providers such as Wren Youth Association, Starr Recreation, and others, such as the Belton Tennis Festival. Those groups would have to meet various criteria, including being non-profit and providing year round recreational opportunities. Senior citizens groups could qualify as well.
A seven member commission, with each Council District represented, would allocate the monies.
Mike Wilson, a longtime supporter and leader in the Wren Youth Association, spoke strongly for the tax, while Powdersville civic leader Freddie Zink, among others, complained that Powdersville always bears the brunt of providing tax revenues for the rest of the county. “We’re like the federal government. We feed everybody,” said Zink, who raised the issue of a special tax district just to provide Powdersville’s needs.
South Carolina law however requires that a formal political entity, like a town or county, form such districts. As an unincorporated area, Powdersville would not be eligible to do so.
In other matters, Sen Bryant, who spoke first in order to get to Columbia for this week’s session of the legislature, informed the crowd that a recent decision by DHEC to allow the dredging of the Savannah River basin would be delayed if not overturned entirely. “We think that such dredging presents some real environmental issues, as well as giving the Savannah port an unfair advantage over our state ports.”