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Accommodations tax: Funds exceed requests for grants

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

None of the groups that have applied for a share of Georgetown County’s accommodations tax revenue will have to go away empty-handed from the current round of grants. There is enough money to cover all $449,000 worth of requests.

The county has $470,000 on hand from the 2 percent state tax on short-term accommodations, according to the county finance department.

Will Dieter, who chairs the county Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee, said he could only remember one other time when the money to be awarded exceeded requests. “It’s an interesting surprise,” he said.

Seven groups have applied for a share of the funds. The largest request is from the county Tourism Management Commission, which wants $202,501 for marketing and advertising.

The county awards funds twice a year. The available tax revenue is $15,000 less than for the same period a year ago. But the requests are also down, chiefly because the tourism commission is asking for $97,000 less than in 2011.

Last year, County Council, which has the final say on the tax grants, relaxed some restrictions for applicants. It no longer requires applicants to provide matching funds or restricts applications to nonprofits.

Nevertheless, the fall requests were “much more in line” with the available funds, Dieter said. The committee still had to cut about $41,000 from requests.

The advisory committee meets March 1 to review the applications, and Dieter said he wouldn’t mind allocating all the available funds if it looks like that would help bring additional tourists to the area.

“There’s no point in holding onto the money,” he said.

Here are the requests:

Tourism Management Commission: $202,501

Project: A $569,016 package of advertising and marketing to attract potential vacationers to the county’s tourism website, from which they can book rental properties through local accommodation providers.

The pitch: “The goals of this plan include driving website traffic and qualified inquiries, leading to enhanced awareness and an increase in the number of visitors.”

Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office: $82,175

Project: The amount represents the salary and benefits for two deputies who are assigned to the year-round beach patrol.

The pitch: “Our increased presence has enhanced the vacation experience for our visitors and enabled our residents to enjoy the quality of life that they have become accustomed to.”

Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association: $54,000

Project: Trash collection, lighting and maintenance at 22 beach accesses in Litchfield Beach and North Litchfield. Volunteers will collect litter on the beach and stock pet-waste bags at the walkways.

The pitch: “The services provided by the LBPOA enhance the enjoyment of these tourists by ensuring clean, family-oriented beaches, within an associated attractive neighborhood environment, that keeps people coming back to Georgetown County year after year.”

Midway Fire and Rescue: $36,539

Project: Purchase of a combined heart monitor and automated external defibrillator with accessories and a service plan.

The pitch: “The medical equipment requested will have an immediate impact on the ability of our firefighter-paramedics to rapidly identify, process, diagnose and transport all patients.”

Pawleys Island Highway Beautification: $32,000

Project: $50,000 in landscape and maintenance of the Highway 17 median between the South Causeway and Allston Plantation. The group has raised $53,000 since 2009 in spite of a troubled economy and has planted nine 100-foot sections of median.

The pitch: “Without our efforts, the medians would return to their former unsightly state, causing people to question Georgetown County’s interest in attracting visitors and new residents.”

Harbor Historical Association: $20,000

Project: A $50,000 down payment on a building on Front Street that will house the S.C. Maritime Museum.

The pitch: “Accommodations tax funding toward the balance of the down payment will allow HHA to close on the purchase of the building and allow the S.C. Maritime Museum to move forward with its plan to expand and offer exhibits and educational programs.”

Garden City Beach Community Association: $16,900

Project: Maintenance of Bypass 17 landscaping between Highway 707 and the Horry County line.

The pitch: “If our association did not provide this highway maintenance program, it would have a negative impact on the number of tourists who would visit Garden City Beach.”

Request: $5,300

Project: Street lighting.

The pitch: “The area served is made up of large high-end rental properties which generate substantial accommodations taxes.”

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