By Stan Welch
The mayors of both Williamston and West Pelzer have formally expressed their support for the proposed countywide hospitality tax that is scheduled for a second reading this week. Both mayors, in a letter of support sent to the County Council, touted the benefits that their towns have seen from their own municipal versions of the tax.
Mayor Durham’s letter stressed the increased level of participation at the town’s various and increasingly diverse festivals and events. The Christmas Park, for example, drew more than fifty thousand people last year in a town of approximately four thousand residents. The almost monthly festival and other events average between two thousand and ten thousand people who attend.
But Durham does not hitch the hospitality tax wagon solely to the live events. He also points out that the town’s parks have all undergone significant improvements, and adds that the revenues generated by the tax have made the funding of both a cultural arts program and the Envision Williamston project a reality.
Those revenues have also grown by twenty five per cent since 2013, giving lie to the argument that the tax drives customers to other dining locations. The proposed tax, which would add two cents to the dollar on prepared foods and beverages at various locations outside the incorporated area of the county (all towns in the county already have a form of the tax and will not collect the new tax if it is implemented), is projected to generate approximately two million dollars a year. The dining clusters located at the various interstate exits are expected to generate the bulk of the additional revenues.
West Pelzer Mayor Blake Sanders also expressed his strong support, but he also raised some issues and offered some amendments to the ordinance as written.
The following is an excerpt from the letter of support that Sanders sent to the Council.
As County Council considers the adoption of the Hospitality Tax Ordinance, I want to be clear that I fully support this 2% tax on prepared foods, as I can directly see the impact from West Pelzer’s ordinance (6 years old). Further, I want to ensure that there is proper distribution of these funds that will directly result in increased economic activity in the municipalities and county. As it is currently written, I feel that there are amendments that can benefit all residents and visitors alike. Please consider the amendments below:
Ordinance Amendment 1
Project list included as an attachment to the Ordinance is not based on recreational needs, population, proportional spending based on district, or economic impact. Amendment 1 proposes changing the Project List to ‘Proposed Project List’ until further recreational needs and economic planning can confirm the Project List is equitable and provides the highest economic impact. See Ordinance Amendment 3.
Ordinance Amendment 2
Project list included as an attachment to the Ordinance does not fully encompass the anticipated needs of Anderson County parks, recreation, or tourism based activities or reflect national, regional, state, or local trends in recreation based activities. Amendment 2 proposes using the first months Hospitality Tax (estimated $300,000) to procure professional parks and recreational planning consultants. These outside consultants will hold meetings in each district to gather input from residents on desired recreational amenities, study recreational trends (active and passive), provide accurate maintenance data and man hours, and economic impact analysis of proposed facilities. County Council will then be able to accurately select projects that will benefit all residents regardless of race, ethnicity, income, or social status.
Ordinance Amendment 3
Amendment 3 proposes holding twelve (12) months of Hospitality Tax to ensure our anticipated income is accurate prior to bonding for seventeen (17) years.
Mayor Durham also expressed his support for the amendments offered, stating that they could make the difference between a public policy that would help put Anderson County on the map and greatly improve the quality of life, or leaving the public resentful of what they might see as an additional tax dumped on them with no consideration of their wishes