County Hospitality Tax could be a home run for Recreation & Tourism

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By Stan Welch

Interest appears to be growing in a potential county wide implementation of a two per cent hospitality tax for Anderson County. Several members of the County council have included a discussion of such a tax on the agendas of the town hall meetings they are holding across the county.

Councilwoman Cindy Wilson hosted such a meeting last week and the hospitality tax, which applies to prepared foods and beverages, was a topic of lively debate. Several representatives of the Imagine Anderson recreational committee were on hand to explain and to push the tax, extolling the results that the various municipalities in the county have seen from their individual hospitality taxes.

Williamston, for example, collects tens of thousands of dollars each year; money used for recreation and to promote tourism. Recent improvements to the Mineral Spring Park were funded by those revenues. West Pelzer has pledged a significant portion of its future collections to leverage the construction of the Chapman Park.

The new proposal is to extend the two per cent tax on all prepared foods purchased to the unincorporated areas of the county. Currently, many of the restaurants along the interstate are exempt from the tax. Estimates are that the countywide tax could generate as much as $3 million a year.

There is some confusion about the details of the tax. For starters, not every recreation provider would automatically qualify for a share of the funds. The main purpose of the tax is to assist operations that attract tourism and promote recreation.

Within that context, funds can be used to construct appropriate facilities, infrastructure to improve or provide access to those facilities, and under certain conditions, to maintain such facilities.

For example, Anderson County does not collect in excess of $900,000 in accommodations taxes (a tax levied on accommodations and lodging) per year, so only fifty per cent of hospitality tax revenues are available for use in maintenance and upkeep of existing facilities, rather than one hundred per cent.

Some opponents of the tax are likening it to a one cent local option general sales tax proposed several years ago, despite fundamental differences in the two taxes.

The local option sales tax would have funded a list of infrastructure projects included in the ballot. The hospitality tax will be allocated to various existing and eligible recreation providers, such as municipal recreation departments, youth leagues, and others.

For example, if a youth association wanted to host a softball tournament that would attract participants and spectators from outside a thirty mile radius, they would be eligible for funds.

The tax can be enacted by the same process as any other county ordinance: three readings and approvals by a positive majority of the Council, accompanied by a public hearing at one of those readings. Some Council members appear to favor putting the question to a referendum, including Councilwoman Cindy Wilson.

District Six Councilman Ken Waters has scheduled a town hall meeting to be held at the Powdersville Library Thursday evening , while Ms. Wilson and Councilman Eddie Moore will cohost a meeting at the Honea Path Town Hall next Tuesday at 7 p.m.