County-wide Hospitality Tax on referendum in November

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By Stan Welch
The Anderson County ad hoc recreation committee met last week and decided to recommend to the full council that they place the question of a county wide hospitality tax on the general election ballot as a referendum question in November.
The vote to forward the issue to the full council was taken in order to meet the August 15 deadline for providing the question to the elections commission in time to be placed on the general election ballot. A special called meeting of the Council to approve a resolution calling for the referendum will have to be held prior to the next regularly scheduled August 15 Council meeting, in order to make the elections commission deadline.
The referendum question, which will basically be whether or not to impose a hospitality tax in the unincorporated areas of the county, will be advisory in nature. If approved, the referendum could either be ignored by the Council, or they could present an ordinance enacting the tax. That ordinance would require three readings.
Currently, every municipality in the county already has a two per cent sales tax. The county tax would not be imposed in addition to that; all revenues currently collected by the municipalities would continue to accrue to them. The county tax, if implemented, would provide revenue for the county to use in establishing and improving county recreational facilities. Revenues collected will be generated mostly along the interstate at the various exits, which have concentrations of restaurants and convenience stores. The hospitality tax, which is set at two per cent, applies to prepared foods.
The committee meeting was attended by the three committee members, Councilmen Craig Wooten (chairman), Tom Allen, and Ken Waters. As well as Councilman Ray Graham and Councilwoman Gracie Floyd. Those numbers resulted in a quorum of the full Council being present. The quorum never convened as the Council itself, though both visitors participated freely in the discussions of all the issues before the committee.
Chairman Wooten stressed that the referendum would give the Council an indication of the public’s support or lack of support. He also pointed out that the Council doesn’t have to take any action whatsoever. “We can just accept the results as information and move on without taking action.” Councilmen Allen and Graham both emphasized the importance of a clearly, specifically written referendum question. Allen reminded the Council of the last referendum issues included on a ballot. “I had lots of people tell me they didn’t even know what they were voting for or against. So we really need to make this language clear.” Allen, like Councilman Ken Waters, will be leaving the Council in January; a circumstance he joked about before making the motion to present the question to the full Council.
The consensus of the majority quorum made it almost certain that the resolution to place the tax issue on the ballot in November will be approved.
County Administrator Rusty Burns and convention and tourism director Glenn Brill reported that a hundred sixty eight thousand dollars in ATAX funds had been obtained to be used in enlarging and improving the Kid’s Venture facility at the Anderson Sports and Entertainment Center. Among the improvements were those necessary to make the park Anderson County’s first all inclusive park. It will be ADA compliant, and will offer an open vista to allow for clear sightlines for parents keeping an eye on their kids. Brill pointed out that fifteen per cent of Anderson County’s population, or approximately thirty thousand people, are developmentally challenged to some degree. “These improvements will allow all of those citizens to use the park safely and conveniently.”
He also reported that a hundred thousand dollars has also been obtained to determine whether a fixed dock or a floating dock would be best to replace the deteriorating dock at McFall’s Landing on Broadway Lake. He also pointed out that the lake is unsafe for swimming due to bacteria counts in the water.
Councilwoman Floyd complained that the lake, which is in her district, gets short shrift in funding, specifically mentioning the Dolly Cooper Park in Powdersville. “I don’t know what formula is used, but Dolly Cooper always gets more money than I do.” A discussion followed about exactly what she wanted to be done at McFall’s Landing, with Floyd stating bluntly that “I want it all. A new dock, more parking, and the seawall needs a lot of work.”
Finally, Chairman Wooten suggested that the seawall project proceed, due to safety, while the rest of the funds are frozen while more specific proposals are prepared by staff. The motion was approved. Burns told the Council that the football field at Dolly Cooper is almost completed, and that construction of a proposed baseball field at the same site is scheduled to begin in the next couple of months.