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Accommodations tax: State error leaves county short on funds

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

After learning that accommodations tax receipts fell short of expectations due to a state allocation error, the Georgetown County Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee heard requests for $568,000 in projects this week.

The county has $171,000 to award.

Officials expected to have more money because summer tourism numbers are up, but John Porter, the grants coordinator, said Georgetown County received $65,000 on June 30 that belonged to another municipality. That payment was deducted from Georgetown County’s money this quarter.

“We know that fiscal year 2012 has been a good year, the best over the past 10-year period, yet, we are looking at much less money to award,” Porter said. “It’s frustrating that these errors keep happening.”

Committee member Henry Jobe asked Porter to pass his frustrations along to both county and state officials.

“I’m concerned that this seems to be an on-going problem,” Jobe said. “We thought we’d have access to funds to address the needs to promote the cause of tourism in Georgetown County. I just think that we need to communicate that this has got to come to a stop. With all the methodology available to collect taxes, we can do better than this.”

Chairman Will Dieter asked people making requests for funds to state if their projects could be trimmed or delayed.

Ken Dewell, treasurer of the Litchfield Corridor Beautification Committee, made requests for $25,000 and $15,000.

He said the $25,000 would cover the difference in costs of maintaining the 3.5-mile corridor and funds from donors. Estimates included $12,063 for pine straw, $11,287 for trash pickup, $1,000 for mowing and $650 for fertilization.

Asked if the businesses along the corridor could pay a little more, Dewell said that they already feel “nickel-and-dimed to death” by worthy causes.

Dewell said he could not speak for his committee but trash pickup could be reduced from six days a week and reserves set aside for hurricane repair could be tapped.

His second request for $15,000 was to mow a .6-mile stretch between the Litchfield corridor and the Brookgreen Gardens entrance. He said the gap looks “wild and woolly” compared to the manicured median in Litchfield and the entrance to Brookgreen. Dewell said Brookgreen can mow no farther than 200 yards south of its entrance because of financial restraints of its own.

“This would be nice to do,” he told the committee, “but the $25,000 is much more important.”

Jobe said the state Department of Transportation paid for landscaping in the median between Brookgreen and Litchfield that is going unpruned and unfertilized. “We need to encourage your group and anybody who will listen to make sure that such a large investment isn’t for naught,” he said.

Dieter said the object of accommodations tax receipts is to provide seed money with the goal of self-sufficiency.

David Phillips, representing the Willbrook Plantation Road Maintenance District Association, requested $50,000 to resurface the bike path along Willbrook Boulevard and to install barriers that will prevent damage from tree roots. Jim Mallow said the barriers go 2 feet below the ground’s surface and force roots away from the path, reducing maintenance in the future.

Committee member Dana Arneman asked if the root barriers could be installed without the resurfacing. Mallow said they could but it makes sense to repave the path at the same time it’s being extended down Kings River Road to Waverly Road.

Jobe said he had ridden down the path in a golf cart and didn’t think repaving was critical.

Kyle Bullock of Huntington Beach State Park requested $69,936 to advertise off-season camping. He projected revenue of $109,600 by increasing winter camping occupancy by 10 percent over three years. Dieter suggested that the park coordinate its advertising needs with the Tourism Management Commission.

Paul Battaglino explained a $32,800 request from the county Parks and Recreation Department for work at beach accesses at North Litchfield and Garden City. The county will provide $23,200 in labor. Because of erosion, a groin at Garden City Beach is too high for an emergency four-wheeler to cross. A second emergency vehicle ramp is a critical need, Battaglino said.

At North Litchfield, loose sand on the beach at the emergency access point is causing vehicles to bog down. He proposed building a wooden ramp over the loose sand. If construction begins in the fall, he said, it could be finished by spring.

Sally Hogan, tourism coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce, sought $220,000 for the county’s Tourism Management Commission annual marketing campaign.

Dieter said the county’s new website looks great, but his real estate firm’s referral traffic from the site is down this year.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “we measure success by occupancy and revenue.”Hogan said that the commission needs to know that partners’ numbers are down.

Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District requested $90,000 with $15,000 for a new ATV and $75,000 to help offset expenses providing water rescue, medical responses and assistance to visitors and citizens.

Bethel AME Church of Georgetown requested $8,404 to assist with an interactive theatrical re-enactment portraying the lives of slaves on the Underground Railroad.

The advisory committee will meet again on Sept. 13 to make recommendations for funding to County Council.

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