Hilton Head taps emergency account to help Heritage tournament

The Town of Hilton Head Island will tap into an emergency account for the third time in as many years to help market the Heritage golf tournament.

Town Council voted 4-0 during a special meeting Wednesday to give $160,000 to the Heritage Classic Foundation for advertising. Councilmen Bill Ferguson and Ken Heitzke were absent.

The foundation has asked for $370,000.

The money would come from a mix of $1.6 million in accommodations and hospitality tax dollars set aside in an emergency advertising reserve account.

The town used money from that account in the past two years to pay for additional advertising through the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce in an effort to counteract the effect of the national recession on island tourism.

Council also dipped into the account following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"I consider saving the Heritage to be an emergency," said town manager Steve Riley of efforts to find a title sponsor for the tournament. Verizon chose not to renew its title sponsorship after last year's tournament.

The town has already pledged as much as $1 million to the tournament if organizers cannot find a sponsor.

The decision came as council considered an advisory committee's recommendations for bed-tax grants to groups whose activities are aimed at tourists. Among those activities are fireworks displays, festivals, theater, and eco-tourism programs.

Councilman George Williams Jr. made the motion to use money from the emergency fund to free up bed-tax dollars for use by other organizations.

"I don't think it's proper to have insufficient funds to fund some of our other worthy groups because of the need to support the Heritage when there's another pot of money that can be used," Williams said.

Council then directed the town's Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee to reconvene and make recommendations for how the spare tax money should be dispersed among arts, culture and tourism groups.

About $148,850 of the $160,000 in bed-tax money that had been designated for the golf tournament is left after council decided to give part of the money to groups it felt needed more or were recommended to receive no money.

The town awarded about $820,550 in new grants.

In total, Hilton Head collected $3.5 million generated by the 2 percent state "bed tax" on lodging during 2010, according to town finance director Susan Simmons.

Revenue is down $78,685, or 2 percent, from the previous year, which is better than predicted, Simmons said.

Town staff anticipated a 5 percent decline.

About $1.4 million of that had already been earmarked by the council in March.

Another roughly $200,000 will go to the town to pay general operations. That's in addition to the $888,300 council already set aside for the town from the 2010 tax revenue.