York County looking to revamp hospitality tax spending

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comJanuary 28, 2014 

— Those calling for more hospitality tax money spent on ball fields and less on the Rock Hill/York County Convention & Visitors Bureau may soon see momentum in their direction.

At the end of a brief Jan. 21 York County Council meeting, Councilman Michael Johnson brought up a new draft ordinance that could change the way hospitality tax money gets spent. Unincorporated areas of the county charge a 2-cent tax on items like food with the money going to projects promoting tourism. The largest collection areas in the county are unincorporated Fort Mill, along the Carowinds corridor, and the restaurant-heavy portions of Lake Wylie.

In recent years there’s been a push by many in Lake Wylie, including former Council members Tom Smith and Perry Johnston, to spend more hospitality tax money on projects such as a planned sports park near Crowders Creek and perhaps a future one in Fort Mill.

Johnson said the draft ordinance would soon be distributed throughout Council and would address previous concerns on hospitality tax spending.

“It really does hold true,” he said of the proposal. “It creates the 11-member panel which we discussed, seven appointed from each district, four at-large. The at-large must represent something to do with hospitality. And then it goes into how we want the (hospitality) tax spent.”

There would be an overall prioritization on how to spend the money. Sports fields would be a top priority, Johnson said, though the proposal could be changed. Funding for the CVB wouldn’t be eliminated, but it would be altered.

“Something we all need to think about is what percentage of (the hospitality tax) are we willing to allow to be spent for the CVB for operations,” Johnson said.

The current ordinance allows up to 20 percent of the funds for that use. Multiple Council members noted that mark is currently exceeded.

“We’ve approved the budget every year in excess of the amount that our ordinance says we can,” Johnson said.

Smith said he was happy to hear Johnson echo many of the same thoughts and concerns expressed for years in Lake Wylie.

“It was refreshing to hear someone from somewhere other than our area to recognize it,” Smith said.

Smith says the hospitality tax “needs to be reflective of who is paying it.” He also believes capital spending like ball fields will generate the most tax revenue by bringing in tournaments and events similar to what Cherry Park, Manchester Meadows and other sites already do in Rock Hill.

“We need to put it into capital projects that would generate sports tourism,” Smith said.

York County has land available for a park through a development agreement passed when Smith served on Council. Council spent money on the project previously for consultant studies. Park backers want to use hospitality tax money for construction, then utilize partnerships with existing local groups for maintenance.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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