22 Oct It’s Time to Invest the Accommodations Tax Dollars
While the newspaper was not at our city council work session on Tuesday night to report on our meeting, we had an interesting conversation with the committee that recommends how the City Council invests accommodations tax dollars. In the past, most of the money collected from the “bed tax” has been passed onto the City’s Designated Marketing Organization (DMO) and organizations that market our city outside of a 50 mile radius as is required by state law.
However, the current city budget relies on some of the funds to pay for tourist related city expenses like additional law enforcement in the downtown, the tourism coordinator who oversees carriages companies, a portion of the maintenance of the Spanish Moss Trail, a contribution to renovation of USCB’s Center for the Arts which is the only facility of its kind available to the public in Northern Beaufort County. And after seeing the positive results of security cameras in other towns and cities, we asked for $71,000 for security cameras that will be staged in the downtown area. The committee did not recommend funding most of what the city requested though all is allowable under state law.
Part of the reason was a misunderstanding of the city’s request by committee members. There was also a feeling that the requests did not meet the state requirements. And finally, the city has never made such requests other than to install an elevator at the arsenal to make the Beaufort History Museum handicapped accessible and not too long ago to help the Historic Beaufort Foundation meet a required match for roof repairs. In the past we have absorbed these tourism related costs through our general fund. Given constraints on revenue put on us by the state, the rising costs of managing state assets including streets, sidewalks, rights of ways and storm water systems, dollars were increasingly tight this year so we had to look for new sources of revenue including the legal use of some of the accommodations dollars to pay the costs of serving needs generated by tourists.
At next weeks city council meeting, we will formally consider the recommendations and make our decisions. None of this is to say that we are not very happy with the work of our DMO and the many organizations that market our city. They have done an increasingly effective job in recent years and for that we are thankful. It is to say that as times change, we have to make changes without reaching further into the taxpayers’ pockets. This is one way provided by state law and one I believe council is likely to follow next week. If you do not want the extra police protection in the downtown area, or maintenance of the Spanish Moss Trail which has become a central attraction to the city and surrounding area, or for the improvements to the center for the arts so they can support the organizations that use the facility, please let us know before Tuesday when we vote.
If I can take off my mayor’s hat, which we know I cannot do, I would support this shift in spending because I believe it makes Beaufort a safer and more attractive place for the people who live here and the many we hope will continue to visit. Sometimes change does not come easy when we get stuck in our ways. Over the past seven years we have been forced by the recession and financial constraints to do things a little differently. But we get used to it and in the end the changes make a lot of sense.