Hospitality tax committee taking shape

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comMay 28, 2014 

— The areas contributing most to hospitality tax funding may have a strong voice in future spending.

Former York County Council members David Bowman and Tom Smith are two of the nine names recommended for a new hospitality tax committee to guide funding requests for the two-cent tax charged on food and drink in unincorporated areas of the county. Another is Dwight Muffett, a Carowinds employee and Lake Wylie resident.

Recommendations came from a May 19 Finance & Operations Committee meeting. They still need full Council approval.

“Having two former County Councilmen,” said Councilman Michael Johnson, “you’ve got two people who can step right in and know what the hospitality tax is, what it isn’t, what it does, what it can do and what it can’t do from day one.”

Johnson recommended his District 1 predecessor, Bowman, from a pair of applicants. As did Councilman Bruce Henderson with his nomination of Smith in District 2. Johnson’s district includes Carowinds and surrounding restaurants, annually the biggest contributor to hospitality tax funds. Henderson’s district includes Lake Wylie restaurants making up the next biggest chunk.

“I think we were fairly successful,” Henderson said of the recommendations, particularly his and Johnson’s districts. “We’re well on our way.”

Henderson has more candidates he’ll “strongly recommend” for the final two seats. Someone in hotel management would be a strong addition, he said.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Henderson said.

The recently established committee will take funding requests related to tourism projects, from new athletic fields to event promotion. The committee will evaluate those requests and prioritize them for Council. Council makes all final decisions.

The new committee includes seven district and four at-large seats. The county received 13 applicants for the seven district seats. The at-large seats must represent the hospitality industry.

“The first seven were the easy ones, because everybody knew who they’d like to appoint,” Johnson said. “The last four are the trickier ones.”

Along with Bowman and Smith, recommendations for district seats were Brenda Robbins, Jeannie Marion, Kathleen Brown, Watts Huckabee and Charles Williams. Muffett and Jayne Scarborough would make up half the at-large seats. Council will vote to approve those recommendations at its June 2 meeting. A couple hours prior, Finance & Operations will meet to recommend two more at-large candidates.

Johnson and Henderson have been driving forces behind the new take on hospitality tax spending. Henderson “doesn’t want it to be us against them,” but recognizes where most of the tax originates and would like to see an equitable amount return through new facilities or event promotion in unincorporated areas. Municipalities like Rock Hill, he said, have their own hospitality tax creating two revenue streams where Lake Wylie or the Carowinds area only have one.

“I want us to be co-equals all over the county,” Henderson said.

Many in Lake Wylie want hospitality funds to pay for a new park on county-owned land at Crowders Creek. The resident spearheading that movement is the same person who first proposed it as a Council member – Smith.

Terms will run three years, but initial members will have one- to three-year terms to stagger incoming membership.

“That’s not saying you can’t reappoint that person,” said Councilman Joe Cox.

Bowman’s in a three-year term, Smith’s and Muffett’s a two-year. All future appointments come as three-year terms.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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