Fort Mill Times

Opinion: York County should review hospitality tax funding

Special to The Herald

Recently, the York County Council denied requests for hospitality tax funding for the Come-See-Me festival in Rock Hill, Summerfest in York and Fort Mill Community Playhouse productions.

Last week, the council voted to revisit a decision to award $11,000 to ChristmasVille, Rock Hill’s annual salute to the Christmas season.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the structure of the tax program, which was designed to help market tourism-generating projects. Some council members are concerned some grants amount to pork barrel spending. Others see the funding as fulfilling its intended purpose.

The Herald agrees with council members such as Michael Johnson and Chad Williams, who don’t want to see the pool of money become an ever-flowing “spigot” of revenue.”

Some of the choices for which applications are granted seem too arbitrary.

Williams said at the Sept. 4 council meeting that he’s against funding successful, “self-sustaining” events, including York’s Summerfest, which was among those turned down last month. Under that premise, why deny the Fort Mill Community Playhouse, which operates on a shoestring budget and recently launched a capital campaign so it can buy a permanent theater near downtown? The theater could be a reliable tourism driver if it gets a little support.

The county began collecting the hospitality tax in 2007 charging an extra 2 percent sales tax on prepared food and drink in unincorporated areas. Much of the revenue is generated from restaurants in Lake Wylie and the Carowinds and Baxter Village areas in Fort Mill Township. Yet, applications from those areas were not approved for new funding, including denying money for the Lake Wylie Visitor’s Center.

We have to wonder if it’s not time to develop a specific set of criteria for hospitality tax dollars.

What makes one event or project more worthy than another?

Why should ChrismasVille or Summerfest be rejected because they are “successful?” How do you define success?

One assumption Williams and others appear to be operating under is the better known events don’t need marketing because they can get by on word-of-mouth advertising. That may be effective with longtime residents, but what about the flow of newcomers to York and Lancaster counties, plus potential tourists in the greater region?

Rock Hill city officials report ChristmasVille created about $2.6 million in total economic impact and attracted 75,000 visitors. Why wouldn’t the county want to help grow those numbers?

The York County Council is expected to discuss this further at its next regularly scheduled meeting Sept. 18. In the coming days, we encourage residents and leaders of the events denied funding to make an argument for keeping grants. Then attend the meeting and speak up.

Your voice might prompt some York County Council members to reconsider their positions on hospitality tax funding.