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Highway 17: Beautification group renews quest for share of county tax funds

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The Litchfield Corridor Beautification Committee will try again for a share of Georgetown County’s accommodations tax revenue now that county rules for the funds have been relaxed.

“Things have changed and we’ve decided we do want to incorporate A-tax as part of our fundraising, though we’re still going to work toward our goal of becoming self-sufficient,” said Tom Leis, who was named the committee’s new president when Bill McElroy resigned last week.

The new rules should improve the committee’s chances. However, a reserve fund the committee maintains could still be a hurdle.

The rules approved last month by County Council eliminate the need for groups to provide matching funds for accommodations tax grants and would allow groups to receive full funding, even if they have a surplus from other fundraising efforts.

But that doesn’t mean funds that groups already have on hand, such as the committee’s reserve, won’t be factored in when the accommodations tax advisory committee reviews requests and makes its recommendations, said Scott Proctor, the county finance director.

“That will be part of the overall picture they look at,” he said.

The committee, which is responsible for landscaping and maintenance of the medians in Litchfield, didn’t apply for funding in the latest round of grants. It was denied about half the $39,000 it requested last year, after a $20,000 reserve fund it had was brought into

question, and lost out on the funds it was approved for when it failed to spend the reserve as stipulated by council when it made the award.

The county’s rules governing accommodations tax grants at the time said groups couldn’t profit from the grants, so funds left over after projects for which grants had been received had to be deducted from future grants.

But the committee might find its efforts to get accommodations tax funding blocked from another direction this time around if it isn’t careful.

Groups that receive the grants are required to comply with transparency laws. But the committee went into a closed-door session last week for a discussion and decision about whether to pursue accommodations tax funds.

The state Freedom of Information Act allows groups that receive public money to meet behind closed doors to receive legal advice and for discussions about contractual matters and personnel issues.

None of those things were discussed, Leis said, but he was doubtful about claims the session was a violation.

Proctor said the session sounded like a “pretty clear” violation to him.

“I know that issue has come up plenty of times before with groups like the Chamber of Commerce,” he said.

The committee will put in a request for accommodations tax funding in June to help pay for “a very specific project,” according to Leis, but the project and how much money will be needed haven’t been determined yet.

The committee is also hoping to increase private donations this year with direct mailings to more than 8,000 Litchfield area residents. Discussions still need to take place about whether the committee will hire a company to handle the mailings, said Leis.

People like the effects of the committee’s work, Leis said, but it can’t continue to maintain the medians without donations.

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