New hospitality tax group to have CVB liaison

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comMay 15, 2014 

— York County Council completed its overhaul of hospitality tax spending last week, but not without concern for who’ll influence it.

Council voted 6-1 to approve a new ordinance creating an advisory group for the 2-percent tax charged on food in unincorporated areas. Councilman Bruce Henderson cast the dissenting vote, not in opposition of the ordinance but hoping for a change to the added liaison position.

A change made for the third and final reading of the ordinance added Rock Hill/York County Convention & Visitors Bureau director or a designee to act as liaison to the new commission. County attorney Michael Kendree said the liaison would “help administer the day-to-day requirements of the committee.”

Council can change that person at any time. The liaison will help establish bylaws, coordinate applications, help prioritize items and transition the committee as members are appointed.

“The duration would be until replaced by another person to carry out those obligations,” Kendree said.

Henderson is concerned about having such a strong CVB presence in the group’s formation. He favors a suggestion by Councilman Joe Cox to have a finance director or staff member act as liaison.

“We’ll be right back to this same situation,” Henderson said. “This will be revisited if we keep the liaison in here as stated.”

The need for a new hospitality tax setup grew from Council members like Henderson, concerned with money being spent for CVB operations instead of other investments. A financial staff member would add neutrality to the group, Henderson argued.

“This could easily be handled in a neutral fashion and take politics out of the decision-making process,” Henderson said.

Cox, who voted in favor of the ordinance because it allows Council to change the liaison when needed, said financial department representation would add competency to the task.

“You’re dealing with about $1.8 million per year,” he said. “I’d like to see that liaison be someone in the financial (department). If it’s going to be a staff member, let’s pick somebody who’s already in the financial world of dealing with what’s in front of them.”

Councilman Michael Johnson disagrees.

“To hand this over to finance, it would create a new bureaucracy because we would have to find someone to get totally up to speed and most likely they would be trained by the CVB just to come be the liaison,” he said.

The liaison needs to be an expert in laws and tourism, and factors dealt with by the CVB.

“The natural group to do this is the group who is doing it now,” Johnson said.

The ordinance creates an 11-member committee to evaluate and recommend spending projects. Council gets final say on allocation. Each council member will appoint one member for a total of seven, the remaining four appointed by the whole council from the hospitality industry.

Members will serve three-year terms, except initial members serving two- to four-year terms to stagger membership. By-laws haven’t been established, nor a meeting schedule. The group will recommend projects to Council at least twice a year.

All council members agree the liaison will serve a vital role.

“It gives us someone who can honestly take a group of 11 individuals who have never been to a meeting, who have no idea the policies and procedures, and give them a structure, a basic framework from which to begin working,” Johnson said.

Councilman Chad Williams said someone outside the CVB as liaison would require more questions about how that role would operate.

“If we’re suggesting that somebody other than the CVB do it,” he said, “then this ordinance is nowhere near complete.”

Chairman Britt Blackwell said the appointed committee and Council’s ability to replace the liaison at any time will create enough checks and balances for the position. The rework of hospitality tax decisions came from concern, especially areas like Lake Wylie and Fort Mill, the visitor bureau had too much influence in hospitality tax spending, he said.

The new ordinance addresses those concerns, Blackwell said.

“It got legitimate attention,” he said.

The ordinance prioritizes projects for funding consideration. First are self-sustaining sports and recreation facilities. Council heard multiple times during the revamp process from Lake Wylie residents wanting tax money for a park on 50 acres of county-owned property at Crowders Creek. Similar talks arose for potential projects in the Fort Mill area.

Other priorities are tourism-related facilities, or events and promotion of existing facilities or events. The committee will begin meeting by Sept. 1.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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