Beaufort News

Beaufort, bed-tax panel clash over how money should be used

The city of Beaufort's request to use more than $250,000 in accommodations tax money -- half the total amount available -- to pay for a surveillance system, extra patrol officers downtown and Spanish Moss Trail maintenance is not sitting well with the panel that recommends how the money is awarded.

The Tourism Development Advisory Committee doesn't believe the city's requests match the panel's directive to use the money to draw visitors to the area.

The city contends that use is necessary during a tough budget year. It also says the request will serve tourists and is within the law governing use of the funds.

About $540,000 is available in funds raised through a tax on overnight lodging.

The city is asking for more than $150,000 to pay for additional police to patrol downtown and for a position to coordinate the carriage tour industry.

Another $71,000 was requested for surveillance cameras downtown, and $30,000 to maintain the Spanish Moss Trail.

The panel is recommending the city get a total of about $5,000.

Accommodations tax money must be used for tourism-related expenses after a portion goes to the city's General Fund and to the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce to pay for tourism advertising, according to state law.

The panel didn't feel the Spanish Moss Trail is used by enough tourists to warrant funds this year, chairman Chip Dinkins said Monday.

The law enforcement requests are within the law, Dinkins said, but go against a directive the committee received from city council in the past to give money to organizations raising matching money from private parties.

"... we were a little perplexed this year when the city showed up asking for essentially 50 percent of the amount available to award to groups who are actively trying to go outside the Beaufort area and draw people in -- put heads in beds -- and help grow the accommodations tax," Dinkins said. "... All of a sudden the city doesn't want that money to go out, doesn't want that money to grow. It just wants to use that money for its own general purposes because it's found itself in a shortfall."

Santa Elena Foundation director Andy Beall, for example, told the panel about reaching out to downtown businesses for donations and said the foundation raised $10,000 in August. The panel recommended the nonprofit group get $20,000 in A-tax money to use for marketing.

The committee recommended $30,000 go to the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce, which the panel said has done a good job of working with other organizations to market Gullah events to outside groups.

Mayor Billy Keyserling said in his newsletter last week that panel members misunderstood the city's requests and what state law allows.

According to that law, a city that draws a high number of tourists can use A-tax funds for additional law enforcement services. The money can't be used as additional revenue for services the city would normally provide, the law says, but only to attract or provide for tourists.

The city says the extra patrols and cameras are needed to protect tourists and that such expenses are allowed under the law. The city's current fiscal year budget included using A-tax money to pay salaries of law enforcement personnel in the downtown area.

"Given constraints on revenue put on us by the state, the rising costs of managing state assets including streets, sidewalks, rights of ways and storm water systems, dollars were increasingly tight this year," Keyserling wrote. "So we had to look for new sources of revenue including the legal use of some of the accommodations dollars to pay the costs of serving needs generated by tourists."

City finance director Kathy Todd recommended that about 20 percent of the $537,000 remain in reserve, Dinkins said.

The panel's recommendations totaled about $350,000, leaving $180,000 in reserves.

Among the larger recommendations are $95,000 for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, the city's designated marketing organization, and $75,000 for renovations to the USC Beaufort Performing Arts Center.

City Council voted in July to provide $125,000 in A-tax money for those renovations.

That move was out of place, Dinkins told City Council in September. He said council should have heard recommendations first and said the panel viewed the arts center more as a community center than tourism hub.

But the $75,000 recommendation was made after the panel conceded the upgraded facility could draw bigger events and more tourists. The additional $50,000 to match what council already promised could be taken from reserves, Dinkins said.

Council members said in July they had run the use of the USCB funds by the panel and confirmed the allocation would not affect the current year's applications.

Organization - program/eventOther sources2014/2015 recommendationRequest2015/2016 Recommendation
Santa Elena Foundation - Marketing150,000.0010,000.0031,358.0020,000.00
Historic Beaufort Foundation - Architects Spring Tour/Website Development/Verdier1,000.003,125.002,295.001,200.00
Historic Beaufort Foundation - Website Development  1,530.001,000.00
Historic Beaufort Foundation - Verdier House Marketing  1,080.00-
Beaufort History Museum - Marketing/Advertising15,677.37 15,677.377,500.00
Black Chamber of Commerce - Cultural Marketing/Gullah Festival/Gullah Christmas220,586.0030,000.0050,000.0030,000.00
Beaufort Art Association - Billboard for 2016 Art Show550.00350.00550.00550.00
Beaufort County Historical Society - Spring Conference   5,000.00
Chamber of Commerce - General Destination Marketing307,660.0090,000.00100,000.0095,000.00
Chamber of Commerce - Visitor Center Operations59,070.0035,000.0035,000.0035,000.00
SC Lowcountry Tourism - 4 County Promotion includes City of Beaufort511,540.0011,500.0022,100.0015,000.00
Main Street Beaufort - Festival Operation/Wi-Fi/General Marketing17,901.0019,000.0038,999.0035,000.00
Artworks/Arts Council - ArtPOP Billboards87,200.001,900.007,500.00-
Port Royal Sound Foundation - Maritime Center Marketing "More to Sea"50,850.00 15,000.003,750.00
FirstShore - Billboard Campaign27,100.00-10,000.00-
Exchange Club of Beaufort - Ghost Tour Promotion2,076.001,500.002,800.001,000.00
Penn Center, Inc. - Heritage Celebration Marketing, Promotion and Special Event110,000.0011,800.0020,000.0018,000.00
USCB Center for the Arts - Pat Conroy at 7048,200.00 15,075.003,000.00
USCB Center for the Arts - SC Arts Conference6,116.00 1,540.001,000.00
USCB Center for the Arts - Humanities Festival / Designer Showhouse11,406.00-10,000.00-
USCB Center for the Arts - Renovations to Performing Art Center1,075,000.00-125,000.0075,000.00
Spanish Moss Trail - Bike Map for Northern Beaufort County4,947.005,000.004,947.004,000.00
City of Beaufort - Spanish Moss Trail Maintenance47,229.00 30,000.00-
City of Beaufort - Camera Monitoring System- 75,000.00-
City of Beaufort - Tour Coordinator and Patrolman (Compensation)- 157,121.935,000.00
   772,573.30356,000.00
Beaufort A-tax overview graphic

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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