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Tax group ‘handling it differently’

Beware the numbers.

Tom Smith, newly elected vice chairman of York County’s hospitality tax advisory committee, says it’s dollar figures and percentages that could get the group in trouble. New chairman Watts Huckabee says it’s council district numbers.

“This is a county tax charged in the unincorporated areas,” said Huckabee, a Rock Hill business owner. “We’ve got to be careful singling out specific districts.”

The group is still in its infancy, and needs to approve its bylaws approve and to appoint another member. But already there’s a divide emerging – whether it’s more important to account for where the money comes from or in deciding where it goes.

“There’s a disproportionate amount of money,” said Smith, a developer and former York County Council member from District 2. “It’s going to become a heartache when we start talking about needs in certain areas.”

Districts 1, 2 and 7 contain unincorporated parts of Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Lake Wylie and Clover. Those districts bring in more than 86 percent of county hospitality tax dollars, which come from a two-cent tax charged on prepared food and beverages in unincorporated areas.

Yet those districts rank fourth, sixth and seventh among seven districts in money received through hospitality-related projects.

“There hasn’t been a return on investment,” Smith said. “It’s going to blow up at some point. It’s only natural.”

Huckabee says the group should create a list of county needs and let anyone with funding-eligible projects know what they’re looking for, rather than worrying with “setting ‘x’ percentages of the money for this district or that district.”

“We have got to look at this as a county issue,” he said. “If we come up with a vision, they’ll come to us.”

Chick Williams, a retiree who represents District 7 on the advisory committee, says that approach works best.

“That’s what I thought this committee was organized for,” he said.

At-large member Jayne Scarborough, executive director with the Olde English District, also agrees.

“Having a broader vision is going to serve us better,” she said.

Meeting for the third time Aug. 19, the group mapped out plans that include reviewing tourism and recreation studies. They plan to bring in public and private stakeholders to see what the county needs, and how they can encourage funding-eligible projects to meet those needs.

Smith hopes future spending will be more equitable to the highest collection areas. Otherwise he foresees a scenario where Fort Mill and Tega Cay continue annexing toward each other and perhaps Lake Wylie becomes a town, leaving less area to draw the tax dollars.

“Then we won’t ever have to talk about this because this tax will go away,” he said. “A lot of what’s happened has been seen as the haves and the have nots.”

Group members hope whatever feelings there are from money spent since collection began in 2007, won’t linger into future decisions.

“From today forward,” Huckabee said, “we’re handling it differently.”

The advisory committee was formed earlier this year by the York County Council. Council members favor prioritizing recreational facilities as a way to promote tourism.

At its Aug. 18 meeting, council members approved $180,037 in hospitality tax money to promote nine projects: Arts Council of York County ($50,000), Culture & Heritage Commission ($35,818), Olde English Tourism District ($25,000), South Carolina Strawberry Festival ($22,137), Christmasville ($20,000), Summerfest ($10,524), Agriculture and Arts Tour ($7,000), Lake Wylie Riversweep ($5,158) and Anne Springs Close Greenway Fiddle n’ Pig Shindig ($4,400).

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