Rock Hill’s ChristmasVille festival organizers say they will use about $11,000 of county funds to market the popular event to 75,000 visitors this winter.
However, it could be the last time they see such funding, York County Council members say.
Council voted earlier this month to award hospitality tax money to the annual event, but the issue was brought back up during Monday night’s public meeting.
Several council members said Monday that H-tax dollars should be spent on promoting up-and-coming tourism destinations rather than established events.
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“At some point, an event becomes self-supportive,” said Council member Allison Love. “The Come-See-Me Festival and ChristmasVille falls into that category. We want to see other things get started and end up as big as ChristmasVille.”
A motion Monday to deny ChristmasVille its funding failed 4-3, with chairman Britt Blackwell as the deciding vote.
From a hospitality tax standpoint, that’s what this money should be used for, is the events putting the impact on the community.
James “Toy” Rhea III, chair of the ChristmasVille Board of Governors
Blackwell said he is in favor of sending a public message to large events, such as Rock Hill’s ChristmasVille, Fort Mill’s South Carolina Strawberry Festival and York’s Summerfest, that it would no longer be awarding large amounts of funding from H-tax dollars.
“Give it one more year and this is it,” he said.
Hospitality tax money comes from a 2 percent charge on prepared food and drink in unincorporated areas of the county, including restaurants in Lake Wylie and Fort Mill such as Carowinds and Baxter. About $2 million comes in annually. Revenue must be spent on projects promoting tourism. The money can only pay up to half of marketing or advertising costs, and isn’t designed to entirely fund groups.
4-3 A motion to deny ChristmasVille its funding Monday failed 4-3, with chairman Britt Blackwell as the deciding vote.
ChristmasVille officials said earlier this month that losing the county funding source would hurt the festival’s effort to attract newcomers.
City officials said ChristmasVille creates about $2.6 million in total economic impact and attracts 75,000 visitors.
“From a hospitality tax standpoint, that’s what this money should be used for, is the events putting the impact on the community,” said James “Toy” Rhea III, chair of the ChristmasVille Board of Governors. “All of them — Summerfest, ChristmasVille, Come-See-Me.”
Festivals and events such as Rock Hill’s Come-See-Me, Summerfest and Fort Mill Community Playhouse all saw funding requests denied on Aug. 21.
Some local groups had heard the county’s statements as far back as three years ago that they could lose the funding, as council member Michael Johnson called it, “turning off the spigot.” The South Carolina Strawberry Festival in Fort Mill received tax funding for several years, but didn’t apply this year.
I think the county has been giving money to these events for years and years. Eventually, you have to stop.
Michael Johnson, York County Council member
Councilman William “Bump” Roddey agreed with sending the most successful festivals and events a year’s notice to allow them to find other revenue streams.
He said he is in favor of setting a low maximum for programs applying if it’s been operating for more than a decade. Cutting funding altogether wouldn’t be as fair, he said, because residents in unincorporated areas attend events in larger municipalities.
“I think it’s what makes the area really, really special,” Roddey said. “I think the other areas wish they had these problems of where we’re going to spend it.”
While every council member said the ChristmasVille festival is a boon for Rock Hill and a strong area tourist attraction, most said it has outgrown its need for H-tax dollars.
Love said it’s a case of “tough love.” She said she has encouraged a Clover farm to apply for H-tax funding, but it didn’t because it thought it would go up against ChristmasVille and other established tourism attractions.
“I think the county has been giving money to these events for years and years,” Johnson said. “Eventually, you have to stop.”