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Pawleys Island: Extra penny for beach building won’t entice town

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The last thing the town of Pawleys Island needs is more money.

It had $6.6 million in cash at the end of 2011, and was on track to add another $500,000 to that when it closed the books on 2012.

A bill pending in the state legislature would let municipalities add a penny to their local accommodations tax to help fund beach nourishment projects. The bill was proposed by Rep. Mike Sottile of Isle of Palms. Rep. Stephen Goldfinch of Murrells Inlet is among the co-sponsors.

“We wanted to give them the option,” Goldfinch said.

Most of Pawleys Island’s cash reserve is earmarked for beach nourishment, as part of an $8.98 million project approved by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2006 but never funded by Congress. The project would put offshore sand along 1.4 miles of beach on the island’s narrow south end.

The town is almost at the point where it could fund the project itself, but Mayor Bill Otis said that’s unlikely.

“We could do this project, but it’s only about a third of the island,” he said.

Otis said he is more interested in a bill introduced by state Sen. Ray Cleary that would allow local government to specifically hold accommodations tax revenue for beach nourishment projects. The current law is unclear, he said.

The town doesn’t have a municipal property tax. Most of its revenue comes from a 2 percent state accommodations tax and a 3 percent local accommodations tax. “We’re basically devoting almost 100 percent of our accommodations tax funds to beach renourishment, other than that which is used for town services,” Otis said.

The town opposed a 1-cent capital improvement sales tax that Georgetown County voters defeated last year. It would have applied to short-term accommodations. Otis said he wouldn’t recommend adopting an additional accommodations tax for beach nourishment, if it becomes law, for the same reason.

“We have to consider the people who are renting their homes on Pawleys Island and the competitive nature of the market,” he said. “We compete with North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, in this day of the Internet.”

However, he added, “there’s a whole lot of difference between a penny for beach renourishment and the multiplicity of projects in the county sales tax.”

Before signing on, Goldfinch said he checked to make sure that he wasn’t violating the Taxpayer Protection Pledge that he signed as part of his campaign for the House seat. Since passage of the bill won’t impose the tax, it doesn’t violate the pledge.

“I double checked on that,” he said.

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