Bluffton Town Council gave out about $91,000 in accommodations-tax money to seven nonprofit organizations at its monthly meeting Tuesday, though not all of it was awarded amicably.
At $35,500, the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society collected the largest chunk of ATAX money of the seven groups.
Its allocation of that revenue, however, drew the scrutiny of councilmember Karen Lavery, who suggested the group should better promote its visitor center at the Heyward House in Old Town.
"I work downtown and people come in and ask me all the time, 'Where's the visitor center? How do we get there?' " Lavery said. "I'm not seeing anything coming out of this visitor center, and I see a lot of our money going into it."
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Lavery also claimed the society was experiencing dwindling membership and visitors, prompting a tense exchange with its executive director, Maureen Richards.
"Membership ... has increased quite a bit, actually, Karen," Richards said. "Our visitor numbers are even increasing from last year ... so we're doing pretty good."
At Mayor Lisa Sulka's suggestion, town representatives will later meet with Historical Society staff to review expenditures.
OLD TOWN SIGNS
Richards' wasn't the only defensive stance of the night; representatives of two Bluffton businesses addressed the council to voice concerns about the town's recent decision to ramp up its enforcement of an ordinance prohibiting promotional signs.
Last month, the town mailed letters to business owners reminding them they need a permit to post roadside signs and that violators face tickets, fines and additional penalties.
Paula Baughan, co-owner of Booksalicious in Old Town, said the signs are an important means of promotion.
"If customers cannot find our store, we will have to close up shop and leave another empty building in downtown Bluffton," she said.
Doug Ellison, owner of Parrot Cove on the Promenade agreed.
"In the Promenade, which is not that old and not that well-known yet, we really need a way to steer people to where we are," he said.
Council also passed ordinances, first proposed by outgoing Police Chief David McAlister in June and subsequently endorsed by interim Chief Angel Tubbs, addressing loitering and public disturbances.
Council also passed a resolution authorizing Town Manager Anthony Barrett to apply to the South Carolina Secretary of State's office to incorporate the Bluffton Public Development Corporation, which Barrett said would have private-sector appointees and support economic development.
Before a vote approving the sale of the town-owned houses in the Wharf Street Redevelopment Project, Sulka said she was excited about the upcoming Aug. 30 lottery that will help determine the homes' occupants.
"We're all nervously ready for this to be completed," she said.
Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.