Beaufort News

In wake of carriage tour feud, council ups minimum license bid by $15K

Five years ago, Beaufort officials made carriage tour operators bid at least $10,000 if they wanted to work downtown.

Tuesday night, city council raised that minimum to $25,000 for a five-year license.

That amount still doesn't cover the city's costs of regulating the constant disputes between the two carriage companies currently operating downtown, according to city estimates.

The recommendation from City Manager Scott Dadson was to set the minimum at $35,000, which is how much it costs the city to regulate the carriage tour business. Dadson was not at the meeting, and Mayor Billy Keyserling presented his recommendation.

Council subsequently lowered that minimum to $25,000.

"I'll be amazed if you get a bid," said Peter White, owner of Southurn Rose Buggy Tours of the $35,000 figure.

Councilman George O'Kelley agreed.

"I just think it's wrong," he said. "I think that kind of money for small businesses is like holding a gun to their head."

O'Kelley was the only vote against the $25,000 minimum, which will be advertised shortly.

Carriage companies bid for five-year licenses. New licenses will take effect at the beginning of 2012.

Five years ago, the winning bids were approximately $26,000 each, but Rose White of Southurn Rose said the economy is much tougher now than it was then.

If bids come in at the minimum of $25,000 each and regulation costs remain the same, the city could end up paying $20,000 annually so downtown carriage tours can continue to operate.

Keyserling said the costs are directly related to extra work created by the feud between carriage operators Southurn Rose and Sea Island Carriage Company. Hope Able, the city police officer who works as tour vehicle coordinator, had to respond to eight calls on Friday and Saturday, including times when she was not on duty.

"We want the carriages in Beaufort, but we don't want the behavior where we have to have a babysitter," Keyserling said. "... Should the taxpayers be paying for a babysitter?"

An updated ordinance governing downtown tours also passed unanimously Tuesday night. The only recommended change that was not included was that bus companies bid for work.

Councilman Mike McFee said bus companies have not been an issue the way carriage companies have, so additional rules are not necessary.

"I don't need to regulate something that doesn't need to be regulated," McFee said.

Among the changes:

  • doubling bus tour operators to four and walking tour operators to six
  • implementation of a "three-strikes" violation policy where operators and tour guides who break three rules in a year lose their license
  • shorter hours of operation that end all carriage and bus tours by 5 p.m. except on Thursday when they can run half an hour later.
  • Follow reporter Erin Moody at \twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort

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