Beaufort County officials have recommended requests by three chambers of commerce for $655,000 in hospitality tax revenue be denied, instead suggesting $200,000 from that fund be spread among the chambers and other nonprofit groups.
The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce also learned Monday that its request for $78,000 in accommodations tax money was rejected because it missed its scheduled appointment with a county board.
Last month, the Hilton Head chamber, the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce requested a combined $665,000 from the hospitality tax fund collected from the countywide 2 percent tax on the sale of prepared food and beverages. Traditionally, the money has gone to reserves and the general fund, not to the chambers.
The county uses its accommodations tax revenues -- a tax on overnight lodging -- to fund the chambers and other tourism-related groups, but the chambers said that allocation is not enough to compete with other vacation destinations.
Under the proposal discussed Monday, the county's Accommodations Tax Board would recommend how to allocate the $200,000 in hospitality tax funds. The funding process would be open to organizations that have applied for accommodations tax funding, and it could also include other groups that would use it to promote tourism within the county.
County Council will have the final say on whether hospitality taxes will be allocated in this manner, but the Finance Committee suggested how half of the $200,000 could be distributed: $35,000 to the Hilton Head chamber; $28,000 to the Beaufort chamber; $5,000 to the black chamber; and $32,000 to be divided among nine other tourism-related groups, such as the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society and the Penn Center on St. Helena Island.
Under the latest proposal, the Hilton Head chamber would have to scale back its original request of $270,000 in hospitality funds, which would have been used to promote golf, bicycling and culinary tourism, according to Susan Thomas, chamber Visitors & Convention Bureau vice president.
The Beaufort chamber also requested $270,000; it too would have to reassess its options, according to Bob Moquin, executive director of the chamber's Visitors & Convention Bureau.
The black chamber requested $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.
However, president Larry Holman said the chamber's revised request for the hospitality tax funds probably would be for magazine ads and additional copies of the African-American Visitors Guide.
CHAMBER MISSES OUT
The Finance Committee also reviewed recommendations from the Accommodations Tax Board on Monday. That funding comes from a statewide 2 percent tax on overnight lodging. The committee recommended granting $200,000 to 21 organizations that requested a combined $704,000.
However, the tax board denied a $78,000 request from the Hilton Head chamber because no one from the chamber attended its scheduled presentation three weeks ago.
"It was strictly my responsibility and a human error," Thomas said. "The day it happened I actually called and expressed my profuse apologies to the committee."
Dick Farmer, chairman of the Accommodations Tax Board, said the board members recognize the value of the chamber and tried to find a way to include it, but the applications were "radically changed" this year to make it clear that an organization had to be present to receive money. The Hilton Head chamber was the only one of 27 applicants that did not send a representative to the tax board.
County Council member Laura Von Harten moved that the Finance Committee give the Hilton Head chamber $10,000 that had been allocated to the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head. The motion died for lack of a second.
Thomas said the decision was fair and the chamber won't appeal.
The Beaufort chamber is scheduled to receive $55,000 in accommodations taxes after requesting $111,000. The board recommended the black chamber receive $30,000 of the $70,000 it requested.
Under county ordinance, the Hilton Head chamber and Beaufort chamber will each receive $68,500 of the accommodations tax revenues, since they are the county's designated marketing organizations. This money is allocated before any requests go to the tax board.