Opinion

The hospitality tax

Now that York County has levied a hospitality tax for the unincorporated areas of the county, it needs to make sure all restaurants are collecting it. Unfortunately, county officials have discovered that only slightly more than half of the establishments that should be collecting the tax are doing so.

The new 2 percent tax went into effect Jan. 1 in the unincorporated areas of the county, while Smyrna, McConnells, Hickory Grove and Sharon saw a 1 percent tax hike. The new tax essentially brings most of the county in line with Rock Hill, Fort Mill, York and Clover, which have had their own hospitality taxes for some time. Tega Cay will begin collecting a similar tax next year, which will make the hospitality tax countywide.

By state law, the tax must be spent on tourism-related marketing and attractions. The county expected to collect about $1 million from the tax this year.

But of the roughly 140 county businesses with on-site food service that were affected by the tax, county officials estimate that only 73 are actively collecting it. The county now is in the process of cross-checking a list of restaurants provided by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to see which ones are not collecting the tax.

The county originally mailed letters to all restaurants in the county listed by the state Department of Revenue, but that list did not include some eligible restaurants. That, of course, begs the question of why the county didn't use the more inclusive DHEC list in the first place.

Unfortunately, even if restaurants were informed of the tax but decided not to collect it, the county has little recourse. No penalties are on the books for businesses that neglected to collect the tax.

Some restaurant owners, no doubt, legitimately were unaware that they were supposed to start including the tax on the meal ticket beginning Jan. 1. Others, we suspect, simply decided not to collect it.

Even if they did not receive a letter from the county, the new tax was well publicized, and many other restaurateurs got the word. So ignorance is not a good excuse.

It is unfortunate that voluntary compliance was not higher. We suspect that many restaurants simply didn't want to be bothered with doing the math. Or perhaps the refusal to collect the tax amounted to a silent protest against a tax some think won't do much to benefit western York County.

That, we think, is shortsighted. While the 2 percent tax adds only pennies to the cost of a meal, the money collected adds up to a considerable sum. That money will be used to attract more visitors to the county, visitors who will help add to the kitty every time they dine at a local restaurant.

We hope restaurant owners, even before being officially informed by the county, will collect the tax. If they don't we hope county officials devise a way to penalize them.

IN SUMMARY

Restaurants in unincorporated areas of the county need to collect hospitality tax.

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