Bluffton drops $26K fee for horse carriage-tour company

The local couple who want to operate a horse-drawn carriage business in old town Bluffton won't have to pay a $26,000 regulation fee to get the tour rolling, but the time police spend monitoring the business will be tracked and billed to them later, town council decided Tuesday night.

Council's move reversed a decision it made at last month's meeting, when members voted to charge Alan and Kay Ulmer the fee. The charge was intended to offset the cost of regulating the enterprise, which includes enforcing the tour route, traffic rules and cleanup after the animals.

Town manager Anthony Barrett had suggested the fee based on half of a police officer's annual salary and to make sure regulating the business "would not put an imposition on staff or taxpayers." Town police will be charged with making sure the tour runs smoothly.

The business license will be reviewed in September. Bluffton police chief David McAllister said his department will track time spent answering calls about the tour. Town council could then use that information to calculate a revised regulatory fee.

The Ulmers, of Buckingham Plantation Stables, asked that the fee be deferred at a meeting with town staff on Monday, Barrett said.

There was some confusion because town council had already approved the fee on first reading. Mayor Lisa Sulka, who was absent at last month's meeting, worried that if council suspended the fee on Tuesday night's second and final reading, future governments could impose the fee, which she called an "outrageous number."

But town attorney Terry Finger said it would be legal to suspend the fee on Tuesday's reading.

McAllister, who wrote the ordinance on tour regulations, said the Ulmers are still working with private landowners to allow them to use space as a tour stop. They are not allowed to halt the carriage on a public right of way.

The route still has to be determined and approved by McAllister before the Old Town Carriage Co. can open.