Fort Mill Times

York County festivals could see reduced funding

Soon, community festivals may have to get creative – or get less.

On May 19, the York County hospitality tax advisory committee reviewed 11 marketing grant proposals totaling $531,554. The group will recommend spending $486,481. York County Council makes the final decision.

While the advisory group recommends the full $300,000 for a 2017 BMX Supercross event in Rock Hill and $25,000 for the Olde English District, it didn’t recommend the full asking amount for the South Carolina Strawberry Festival in Fort Mill, Summerfest in York or several Rock Hill events including the Come-See-Me Festival, Christmasville and the Old Town Amphitheater concert series.

Recommendations for those events are for 70 percent to 85 percent of the requested amount.

“These festivals are good for the county,” said committee chairman Watts Huckabee, “but they’re not necessarily good for the (hospitality) tax.”

The hospitality tax comes from a 2 percent charge on food and drink in unincorporated areas. Municipalities have their own hospitality taxes that, like the county charge, must go toward tourism-generating projects. The county tax brings in about $2 million annually. A soft target is for 10 percent to go toward marketing, the rest to capital needs and other projects.

Many of the same community festivals apply for marketing money each year, often in increasing amounts. The committee wants to get away from that trend.

“We should reallocate that to new, emerging events,” member Hannah Davis said.

Another concern is the location of festivals. They bring people into municipalities, but restaurants there aren’t the ones paying the county tax. Member Brenda Robbins would go further than the 70 percent funding recommendation for several of the annual events.

“I just don’t think we should fund those,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair to take the unincorporated area’s money and give it to the city.”

The same round of requests came up last year, within a month of the new advisory group forming. The group recommended using the old method to fund requests and is setting a new path this year. Members bothered by the location of festivals agreed to fund lesser than requested amounts, but intend to make deeper cuts moving forward.

“We’re hitting the same theme on all of these,” Smith said. “The question is do we cut them off at the knees this year.”

Huckabee sees the county group reducing festival promotion funding “if not getting out of the business” entirely.

“I’d bet within two years we won’t be funding any of this,” he said.

Getting creative

There are options for festivals wanting to maintain some level of funding. One is to show how the event impacts restaurants in the unincorporated areas.

“They need to quantify it,” said member Chick Williams. “We need to have more detail.”

Another is to prove new need for funds.

“You want to see them doing new things,” said member Jeannie Marion.

Other ideas stretch further. Rock Hill events like Come-See-Me could schedule events outside the municipality, Huckabee said, or the Strawberry Festival in Fort Mill could do more in promoting the unincorporated Baxter area.

“The biggest concern,” Huckabee said of the Strawberry Festival, “is it’s confined to that one area.”

Events like the Strawberry Festival could do more to add vendors from unincorporated areas, then show that financial impact in grant applications.

“Who are your vendors?” Davis said. “Where are they from?”

The committee wants to see more matching money. The county hospitality tax can pay for up to half the promotion costs of an event. The group wants to see more matching grants, particularly in municipalities where a city hospitality tax can boost the same event.

“Rock Hill keeps all theirs for sports-related tourism,” Smith said, as more requests come from Rock Hill-based groups or events than the rest of the county combined. “Why is the county always the bailer-outer?”

The commission wants to do more to improve applications. Next year they will hold a workshop for anyone interested in applying, to better lay out what they expect. Marketing grant applications come in twice annually.

John Marks •  803-547-2353