Chamber makes right call on state bed-tax proposal

The decision by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's board of directors to oppose a proposal that would give the chamber more marketing money at the expense of local arts and cultural groups is to be applauded.

The board recognized the bottom-line value these groups bring to the business community and the community at large. And the board recognized that the money to be gained was not worth the loss to other local organizations.

"Even though we are underfunded on marketing, this shift is not a significant amount of money," said David Tigges, the board's chairman. "We will still be underfunded (under the proposal). And it shifts money away from local nonprofits, which we think are vital to the community of Hilton Head, and does not serve our vision. We want people to have enjoyable experiences here, and we have worthy nonprofits who are key to that."

Defeating the proposal also would relieve the Town of Hilton Head Island from the difficult task of choosing between paying its own bills and helping the local arts community.

Mayor Tom Peeples rightly summed it up this way:

"This will pit local services against the arts. We will be faced with questions such as, 'Do we use the money to pay for EMTs to handle call volumes because of all the visitors on the island or do we pay for the arts?' We need more marketing dollars, but this is not the way to do it."

Based on last year's figures for the 2 percent tax on short-term lodging, the amount going to the chamber would increase by about $530,000, to about $1.6 million, according to town finance director Susan Simmons.

The town would lose about $870,000 for grants and operations.

More than 15 groups receive state accommodations tax money from the town, accounting for 10 percent to 30 percent of their budgets, officials said.

These groups would be the big losers in terms of relative impact. The proposal calls for increasing the state's share of the money from 3 percent to 11 percent. The increase would go to regional marketing and to the state's welcome centers. The remainder would be split between marketing organizations and local governments.

The proposal is being considered by the Taxation Realignment Commission, a panel charged with recommending changes to the state's tax system. A public hearing is to be held Oct. 8 in Charleston.

It had to be tempting for chamber board members to just stay quiet while the legislative process worked itself out. The result could be a state mandate to give them more money.

But by speaking out against this particular proposal, they put themselves in a better position to push for a more lucrative solution to their marketing budget woes.

They also signaled they understand and appreciate the value of vibrant, well-rounded community.