Beaufort County adds $27,000 to bed-tax fund after applicant's email snafu

cconley@islandpacket.comSeptember 24, 2012 

County Historic Preservation Planner Ian Hill receives a plaque from Council Chairman Weston Newton.

CASEY CONLEY

A board that recommends who gets money from a tax on overnight lodging was given an extra $27,000 by the Beaufort County Council on Monday to distribute.

The council vote means nearly three dozen arts groups, festivals and chambers of commerce chosen by the Accommodations Tax Board to receive the bed-tax money must wait at least two more weeks before the funding is formally awarded. All told, the board will have $477,000 to award instead of $450,000.

But the vote also means a second chance for at least six applicants passed over during an initial review and one agency whose application was sent but never arrived at the county.

The Yemassee-based Lowcountry & Resort Island Tourism Commission had tried to submit its application to county staff by email, but the application got stuck in its outgoing mail folder, according to county officials. The agency promotes tourism and activities across the Lowcountry.

"The issue was that they emailed it, and apparently, it got caught electronically in their out box, so we didn't receive it, and they didn't realize it hadn't been submitted," said Councilman Stu Rodman, who said the agency typically receives 6 percent of the entire amount allocated during the bed-tax process.

Rodman's initial request to have council award the group $27,000 was rejected, but not before sparking a 30-minute debate over the council's role in awarding the money.

Several councilmen, including Gerald Dawson and William McBride, said they were uncomfortable awarding bed-tax money after the accommodations-tax board had already finished its review. They suggested that the process, which all other applicants had to follow, should have been followed in this case and worried it could set a precedent.

Others, including Rodman and Laura Von Harten, said the tourism commission was a proven partner dedicated to the region, and the council could save time by awarding it the $27,000.

Ultimately, council settled on a third course that gave the accommodations-tax board more money to allocate without telling it how the money should be doled out. The board could still decide not to award the money to the tourism commission.

Council Chairman Weston Newton argued that penalizing the group for failing to submit its application on time would only hurt the region's tourism industry while it's still struggling.

"It doesn't do us any good as a body to be so hard and fast with these rules, that the money stays in the county's account rather than promote tourism," he said.

The accommodations-tax board is expected to reconvene within two weeks to determine how the money should be awarded.

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