Disagreement over hospitality tax continues at York County Council meeting

jzou@heraldonline.comMay 19, 2014 

— Disagreement over hospitality tax dollars continued Monday night during a York County Council meeting, with some members expressing renewed concerns over funding of the county’s tourism arm.

The council voted 4-3 to update an ordinance that would allow a larger chunk of funds to be spent toward operation costs for the Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The bureau, headquartered at the York Technical College’s Baxter Hood Center in Rock Hill, spearheads advertising for local festivals and solicits larger conferences and tour groups.

The update would align the county with state regulations that allow up to 50 percent of hospitality tax revenues to be spent on maintenance for organizations such as the visitors bureau. Currently, county law specifies no more than 20 percent can go toward operations.

The ordinance has become a sticking point for those on the council looking to reduce the bureau’s overall budget amid accusations of favoritism toward projects in Rock Hill.

As a whole, the council has sought more oversight of the visitors bureau – recently establishing an 11-member committee to replace a current body that votes on projects using tax revenues. Each committee member will be handpicked by the council and serve staggered terms – including four at-large voting positions.

“I’m trying to make a wrong right,” said Councilman Bruce Henderson, one of three who rejected the updated ordinance and supported a failed amendment to slash the visitors bureau operations budget to 15 percent. Councilmen Joe Cox and Curwood Chappell concurred.

Cox vouched for “internal restrictions” to be placed on the bureau and suggested the 15 percent figure. He added the visitors bureau’s role is declining due to higher use of mobile technology such as tourism apps.

Councilman Chad Williams spoke out against bureau restrictions, saying the bureau provides value to the county. He urged fellow councilmen against a drastically smaller percentage that was arbitrarily chosen.

Debate over the hospitality tax has hinged on whether districts have benefited equally from the revenue. The tax is funded largely by the unincorporated areas of Lake Wylie – which have had difficulty funding sites such as a new park.

The county lacks its own parks and recreation department, making hospitality tax funds an attractive funding stream for those looking for big-ticket items such as ball fields and other capital-intensive projects.

Councilman Bump Roddey said there was confusion on the council regarding what the bureau actually does.

“They’re not an individual vacation planner,” said Roddey of Cox’s technology comment. “Their focus is on groups, bigger conferences, bigger attractions – you don’t get conferences by going onto social media.”

“We will lose if you say ‘You make it, you take it,’” Roddey added, alluding to Henderson’s concerns over fairness.

Chairman Britt Blackwell mostly abstained from the debate, agreeing with Henderson that “there were inequities” when it came to which projects were funded in the past. He urged council members to keep territorial disputes at bay.

In an earlier meeting on Monday afternoon, council members began the first steps to appoint members of the new Convention and Visitors Bureau committee. Among the proposed appointees is Charles “Chick” Williams, father of Councilman Chad Williams.

The council is looking to fill two more at-large seats in the coming weeks. The appointees need to be approved by the council and sworn in before starting any official hospitality tax duties.

Williams said he hopes the new committee will begin smoothing council relations when it comes to the hospitality tax. “I hope we’re getting into more unison.”

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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