Hilton Head Island Airport officials have a case to make for using state accommmodations tax revenue to help pay for police and firefighting services at the airport.
They should apply to the Town of Hilton Head Island. Town officials can weigh the request against other applications for the money and decide what to do.
Airport officials say they are coming up short in paying for police and firefighting at the county-owned airport despite collecting firefighting and security fees from US Airways, as well as receiving money from the federal Transportation Security Administration.
In fiscal year 2011, that totaled $464,536, according to county financial reports. But county officials say they spent more than $700,000.
According to their bed-tax application, they anticipate $416,568 in fees and reimbursements, but expect to spend $719,824.
Airport officials have applied to the town for $115,237 in bed-tax funding. That takes into account splitting the $303,256 shortfall between town and county funding and calculating tourist use of the airport at 76 percent of passengers arriving, based on a 2009 survey.
Last year, airport officials applied for $300,000 to be used for maintenance, police and firefighting services and advertising, but later withdrew the request. Much of the money was to be used for maintenance that had been deferred over the years.
State law allows a municipality or county to use money collected from the 2 percent state tax on overnight lodging to help pay for firefighting, police and other public services. But the amount used has to be commensurate with the additional spending prompted by tourism. The county attempts to justify its $115,237 request under that constraint.
Willis Shay, vice chairman of the town's Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee, says the law allows the town to spend bed-tax money for town-provided services, but not county-provided services.
But given that the airport is contained on Hilton Head and serves visitors coming to Hilton Head, the law ought to allow some portion of the cost of providing airport firefighting and police services to come from the tax on tourists.
If the S.C. Tourism Expenditure Review Committee rules it out of line, the decision could be appealed, or airport officials could look solely to the county's own share of state accommodations tax money, collected in unincorporated areas of the county, to help foot the bill.
The county reports that it distributed about $409,000 in state accommodations tax grants in fiscal year 2010.
Competition is always fierce for Hilton Head and county bed-tax grants, but airport officials have little to lose by asking.