Anyone wanting to start a new festival or event in York County may have a little more incentive to get going.
The county’s appointed advisory committee that recommends how the county spends its hospitality tax money has updated the guidelines for marketing grant applications, putting more emphasis on unincorporated areas, like Lake Wylie and areas in Fort Mill Township.
“What we’ve really done is try to consolidate and really focus the point scoring toward the benefit (of) unincorporated areas, because that’s where this tax is generated,” said Mark Van Sickle, advisory committee chairman. “We really feel strongly it needs to go back in those areas.”
Hospitality tax is a 2-percent charge on prepared food and drink in unincorporated areas of the county. The tax money must be used for tourism-related projects. Municipalities, such as Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Rock Hill, charge their own hospitality tax.
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While York County spent the tax money on large capital projects in the past, including $1 million for the Clover School District Community YMCA in Lake Wylie, a smaller portion of the more than $2 million collected annually goes toward marketing grants. Almost every major festival in York County, such as SummerFest in York and ChristmasVille in Rock Hill, has used the money at some point since the tax began about a decade ago, some more than once.
“Once you’ve established (an event), it’s time to get off the money and let us invest in something new,” said Councilman Michael Johnson.
In addition to festivals, the marketing grant can be used by groups promoting tourism. Arts and historical groups often apply. To apply, groups must attend a workshop by the committee, which then scores the application and recommends how much, if any, York County Council should approve.
The next round of applications are due April 15.
New projects showing impact on unincorporated areas — driving traffic to the restaurants charging the hospitality tax — will now be more likely to get funding. Councilwoman Christi Cox said she wants room for events inside municipal limits that bring people to restaurants in unincorporated areas.
“The ultimate goal is to ensure we increase the unincorporated area generation of revenue,” she said. “And, secondarily, to reinvest in areas that have something in them now.”
The Rock Hill-York County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which promotes festivals, events, restaurants and more, receives about 80 percent of its funding from the county.
“I don’t think it’s good practice to have somebody that we give marketing money to, and we give roughly 80 percent of the revenue to the CVB, to have them charge the person we gave marketing to,” said Kevin Madden, assistant county manager.
Council didn’t vote on whether to ask the bureau for changes, but agrees staff should investigate it.
“It seems odd,” Johnson said. “I’d certainly support us taking a hard look at that.”