York County leaders aren’t likely to ask more citizens to look at new tourism sites in Lake Wylie. But they may well ask professionals to do it.
York County Council directed county staff to plan for money to hire a consultant when budgeting season gets rolling this spring. The county hasn’t officially approved money, but several members say it’s needed for studying how to spend hospitality tax revenue in Lake Wylie and along the Catawba River.
Councilman Robert Winkler brought the issue up Jan. 16 after multiple presentations from the county hospitality tax advisory committee stating what that group sees as the three areas ripest for investment — agritourism, Lake Wylie and the Catawba River.
Council hasn’t formally adopted those three as its top priorities. A fact that’s given some members concern approving money for any of them.
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“We’ve all sat up here and said we’ve had no discussion about this, we don’t know that this is our priority,” Winkler said. “And the next time it comes before us we say the same thing.”
In December, council voted 4-3 to spend up to $50,000 to update a 2008 agritourism study. A citizen group formed in recent months to revive agritourism talks dating back at least a decade. S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope is co-chair of it. Some council members had issue spending the money without voting on its priorities first, or spending it ahead of Lake Wylie and the Catawba, for fear it would “pick a winner” from the group.
It’s still a concern for Councilman Michael Johnson, and a reason why he favors spending money in the upcoming budget to study the lake and river.
“It might be that all three make sense and we start allocating money to them,” Johnson said. “But until you study them, right now you’re going to get one report and that one report, I promise you, is going to say agritourism works. Why else would you do a $50,000 study if that’s not what the result is going to be?”
What county leaders don’t seem keen on, is setting up more citizen groups like the agritourism one. Johnson, whose district includes part of Fort Mill, said new groups for the lake and river would have to have the “political power” of he agritourism group, with its multiple elected officials, just to get going.
“I’m not sure that setting up citizen committees to study this is the best use of our resources,” Johnson said.
Councilwoman Allison Love, who represents the Lake Wylie area, doesn’t favor more citizen groups, either.
“It’s a waste of their time, and I think it’s a waste of our time,” she said.
Kevin Madden, assistant county manager, believes staff putting out a bid for consultants could speed up the process, rather than having citizen groups present their findings.
“It would probably be a lot quicker that way,” he said.
While council asked staff to prepare for consultant money in the new budget, the group didn’t formally adopt the three priorities yet. There is some concern choosing those three options, even though the tax advisory group did so, might limit spending elsewhere.
“Staff’s opinion is just because they said top three, that doesn’t mean that has to be the only three projects we’re working on,” said Bill Shanahan, county manager.
Councilman Chad Williams, another Fort Mill area representative, said he wants to “make sure we’re not jumping to three.” While he didn’t see the recent agritourism money as picking a winner among three candidates, he also doesn’t want to leave out the rest of the county.
“I don’t know that we’ve picked winners,” he said, “but we’ve picked a whole lot of losers.”
Love said the three proposed priorities are “all pretty much on level ground” despite the longstanding talk of an agritourism site, since to date no firm plans have come from all that talk. If anything, there may be opportunities along the lake that are further along with Duke Energy set to donate land at Allison Creek Access Area as part of its federal hydroelectric re-licensing.
Yet whether it’s these three priorities or others, the county won’t be able to spend on everything. Hospitality tax, charged on prepared food and drink in unincorporated areas, generates more than $2 million annually. Large capital projects like ballfields or sports facilities can cost several times that amount. The county already put one unofficial hold on capital spending when several projects in Lake Wylie and Fort Mill drained the account.
“We only have a certain amount of dollars to spend, no matter what they come back and tell us would be great to have,” Love said.