A $665,000 request from three local chambers of commerce to promote tourism came to a stalemate in front of Beaufort County's finance committee Monday afternoon. It will remain in committee after a 3-3 vote.
Councilmen Jerry Stewart, Bill McBride and Steven Baer opposed the request because they weren't comfortable taking that much money out of the county's hospitality tax fund, which comes from the 2-percent tax on food and beverage sales at Beaufort County restaurants.
Money from the fund has typically gone into a pool for parks and other public infrastructure that has no other sources of funding.
The chambers want the money for marketing to prospective tourists looking for golf, culinary and biking destinations, as well as buying general advertising in new television and online venues.
Specifically, the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce requested $200,000 to attract golfers to the area during the fall and winter off-season. It also seeks $50,000 to market the area's culinary attractions and $20,000 for promoting its bicycle trails.
The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce wants $200,000 for online advertising, $50,000 for a historic documentary and traveling exhibit, and $20,000 to promote the area's biking opportunities.
The Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce seeks a total of $125,000. It did not have full details on how the money would be spent, other than $35,000 to $40,000 for TV, film and magazine ads and visitors guides.
Committee chairman Stu Rodman said the hospitality fund will have $1.3 million available for grants, assuming the County Council approves a $1million loan to the Heritage golf tournament, which passed second reading Monday. "I'm not favorable to taking any monies out of that hospitality fund to feed into the chambers," Stewart said. "I have a hard time with the chambers each year, in lean times, coming back and asking for more."
Rodman modified the motion to $500,000 that would have been split between the three chambers. Rodman suggested letting the accommodations tax board decide how to allocate the hospitality funds, since it would also be hearing requests for monies collected from the 3-percent local accommodations tax.
That board also will hear a request from the chambers for an additional $264,000 for marketing, as well as requests totaling $445,000 from other entities. The local accommodations tax, which is levied on overnight lodging, has an uncommitted balance of more than $1.7 million.
Rodman, Brian Flewelling and Paul Sommerville agreed with the chambersthat the additional funds were necessary to keep Beaufort County competitive.
"I think if we don't do this we're running the risk of not keeping pace with the advertising dollars other communities are spending," Flewelling said.
Carlotta Ungaro, the president and CEO of the Beaufort Chamber, said other states give destination marketing organizations, like the chamber, a higher percentage of taxes. If the chamber was in Georgia, it would automatically receive $710,000 and in North Carolina, $920,000. Instead, the chamber received just $359,000.Last year, the county ordinance gave $150,000 from the accommodations tax fund to each the Beaufort and Hilton Head chambers, plus $50,000 to the Black Chamber. The three chambers received a combined $281,000 from the hospitality tax fund.Baer said he would be comfortable matching last year's total -- $631,000 -- along with an increase proportional to the county's tourism growth in 2010. Council chairman Weston Newton arrived near the end of the hour-long discussion and did not vote. He said he wouldn't support the requests unless he had more time to discuss the policy shift and open the funds to a competitive process among any interested entities.