Residents express opposition to county hospitality tax

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During public meeting

By Stan Welch

District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson held a public forum Tuesday night at the Williamston Municipal Center to receive public input on the proposed two cent hospitality tax for the unincorporated areas of the county. The meeting narrowly avoided mob status, as loud, unruly behavior ran its course. Approximately thirty people attended the informal meeting, and approximately two thirds of them expressed anger at the tax, at the government, at corruption, and in general.

Wilson, for her part, struggled at times to control the emotional group, which occasionally expressed itself in profanity, and whose members often went on long, rambling rants against several unrelated aspects of government, at the local, state and federal levels.

One supporter of the tax who offered some statistical information was shouted down with curses and intimidating remarks.

Wilson also used some fairly inflammatory language, when she suggested that the people vote against a proposal to change the county council’s terms from two years terms which all end simultaneously to staggered four year terms that would negate the possibility of a total turnover in any given election cycle.

Wilson opposes that idea, and asked the audience why they would want to allow staggered terms in light of the performance that past councils have exhibited. “Why, in light of the corruption and tyranny that we have seen would you want to give them four year terms,” she asked.

She has also challenged certain provisions of the tax ordinance that would allow review and inspection of the records of the various businesses, calling those provisions communistic and dictatorial.

But state law allows for such a confirmation and review process in both the hospitality tax legislation, as well as in the current accommodations tax legislation, which is already in effect.

Wilson also hinted at some sort of chicanery by District Six Councilman Ken Waters, the bill’s sponsor. Wilson accused Waters of putting the ordinance on the agenda while most of the Council was out of town at a municipal association gathering. Both Waters and county documentation confirms that Waters also attended that gathering at Hilton Head.

Williamston Mayor Mack Durham and West Pelzer Mayor Blake Sanders were both on hand to explain the benefits which their towns have received from their own municipal hospitality tax.

Over the last few years, every town in Anderson County has adopted such a tax; at least in part because if the county had passed the tax first, the towns would have received only one half of the two cent tax, instead of all of it, with the county receiving the other penny.

Also on hand was Charles Pressley, a former candidate for the District Two Council seat. He argued vociferously against several aspects of the tax, while supporting it in principle.

Wilson also opposes the tax based on what she says would be an expenditure of $500,000 to $600,000 a year in support infrastructure to administer the tax and oversee the programs instituted as a result.

She informed the crowd that she intended to offer a number of amendments to the ordinance, including one that would subject the measure to a referendum vote. “If the Council will not put this to a vote by the people I will not support it”, said Wilson.

In an unofficial show of hands, the tax was opposed by approximately a three to one ratio.