Bed tax rules must be based on clear objectives

info@islandpacket.comOctober 7, 2013 

The city of Beaufort's accommodations tax application process should be ironed out and on schedule by now.

But it's not.

Last year, changes were made with the intent of making recipients more accountable, cooperative and focused on key objectives. The grants are typically applied for and awarded in early fall, but the process got off schedule with the revisions.

Despite officials' stated desire to return to the usual cycle, the chairman of the committee that advises City Council on the grants said Oct.1 that it might be the end of the year before the committee submits its recommendations.

Tourism Development Advisory Committee chairman Chip Dinkins and former chairman Jeff Evans are reconciling discrepancies between the applications and the new rules.

"There was confusion about what we were looking for and what we are actually asking about in the application," Dinkins said this week.

These grants -- proceeds from a tax on overnight lodging that help pay for programs that promote and attract tourism -- are not guaranteed to the organizations that apply for them. As such, the delay should not disrupt important events or programs, nor should it cast these groups' budgets into disarray.

Nonetheless, if the grant criteria include cooperation, shouldn't the city set an example by providing a predictable timeline that makes possible the sort of planning and efficiency it now demands?

Unfortunately, much of the applicants' confusion is about the definition of "cooperation." The city should drop it as a prerequisite. After all, the state accommodations tax law is clear about what makes an organization eligible to receive a grant. Playing nice with others isn't among the criteria.

That's not to say the city is misguided in wanting applicants to use tax dollars more efficiently by working with other groups and avoiding duplication of effort. But cooperation is not only difficult to quantify, its absence also doesn't necessarily mean the applicant is incapable of fulfilling the law's chief requirement -- promoting tourism.

Last year's changes also sought to bring fiscal transparency and accountability, and those should be the primary focus of the committee and the city. These characteristics are easier to define and communicate, and they yield data that give the committee's recommendations a rational underpinning.

The work to bring clarity to the process is necessary. But clear instructions are born of clear objectives. Cooperation sounds good in the abstract, but in practice, it can muddle matters.

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