We think York County Councilman Bruce Henderson’s proposal to build a 50-acre park in Lake Wylie is worth considering. But we stop short of endorsing his call to allocate county hospitality tax money according to where it’s collected.
Henderson has been lobbying county leaders to set aside $5 million to $6 million from hospitality tax revenues to build a new park near Crowders Creek to provide a site for sporting events, attract tourism and serve as a recreational area for nearby residents in Lake Wylie and Clover. The money would come from a 2 percent tax, known as the hospitality tax, on prepared food and non-alcoholic beverages levied on visitors and residents in unincorporated areas of the county such as Lake Wylie.
Proceeds from that tax can be spent only on projects and events that are tourist related. Between June 2011 and July 2012, York County’s hospitality tax brought in $1.7 million – a $22,000 gain over the year before.
Henderson argues that because his Lake Wylie/Clover-based District 2 pumped $352,000 into the hospitality tax kitty last year, the district should receive a comparable percentage of the overall proceeds. Henderson also questions why more than half of this year’s hospitality tax revenues were used for operating costs and promotions at the Rock Hill-York County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Again, we agree that the council should take a hard look at the District 2 park project. It would be well situated to both draw visitors and serve a large segment of the county’s population.
But we disagree with the idea that hospitality tax money should be apportioned according to how much tax money each district collects. If that were the formula, the heavily populated areas with the most restaurants would get all the money while the more sparsely populated areas of western York County would get a pittance.
This is one of those situations in which the council has a responsibility to think in terms of what is good for the entire county, not just the districts they represent. The visitors bureau, for example, is designed to drum up tourism for the entire county, not just the districts that already are visitor destinations.
A number of municipalities in the county also levy their own 2 percent hospitality tax on food and beverages, and keep the money for tourism-related projects. The town of Sharon also has a 1 percent hospitality tax.
Councilman Joe Cox suggested that, if Lake Wylie area wants more money to develop tourism and recreational projects, it could incorporate itself and start charging a hospitality tax of its own.
It seems likely that the council could find a way to help fund the District 2 park project as part of overall objectives for expanding tourism in the county. The park is a good match for the county’s goal of attracting more sports-related and recreational tourism.
But determining use of hospitality tax money based on quotas would be counterproductive. Tourism is one area where Council needs to be thinking countywide.