Council considering $56K for Chamber, Visitor’s Center

BLYTHEWOOD- Asking for more accommodation tax and general fund money has become a common theme for the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce, and Council continues to up the numbers every year.

In 2017, Chamber Executive Director Mike Switzer sought additional funds of nearly $71,000 before scaling that number back amid town council protest.

Of the $71,000, $33,000 was earmarked for the Blythewood Visitor’s Center which operates under the Chamber. Switzer ultimately received $18,500 which was to be dedicated to pay for an employee for the Center. And just last month, the chamber requested and received an additional $7,643 for the visitor’s center, citing projected deficits due to increases in hours worked, but no specifics.

Now, Switzer is asking Council to increase the economic development grant the chamber receives from the Town from $15,000 to $20,000 in next year’s town budget. He also wants the Town to increase the annual accommodation tax funding for the visitor’s center from $18,500 to $25,000 and an increase in funding for the Big Grab from $8,750 to $12,500.

Blythewood Town Council, initially at least, wasn’t willing at all to entertain $25,000 for the visitor’s center, preferring instead to leave funding at the current $18,500.

“I kind of get tired, and there’s not many people who come in and do this, when you keep coming and asking,” Mayor J. Michael Ross said during the May 10 budget work session. “When you don’t get to a certain number, you want more. That doesn’t seem fiscally responsible to me,” Ross continued. “You have to look from within.”

As the meeting proceeded, however, council member’s tone changed. They soon tentatively agreed to increase the annual visitor’s center funding to $20,500, with the potential for an additional windfall of $10,500 ($3,000 discovered in unspent accommodations tax revenues plus $7,441 that was returned unexpectedly by The University of South Carolina from a recent equestrian competition for which the town provided funding.)

If the proposed funding is approved, the chamber will end up receiving a total of $57,500, an increase of $15,250 over current funding.

The appropriations making up the $10,500 funding came from what’s called the “30 percent” fund. State law requires that 30 percent of accommodation tax revenues be spent specifically on an agency to promote tourism. It can’t be spent on salaries or operational expenses, the Town’s assistant town administrator, Chris Keefer, cautioned council members during the work session.

“This is where the TERC dings us every year,” she said. “That money is supposed to go to some organization that has some existing tourism marketing program.”

TERC, or Tourism Expenditure Review Committee, operates under the S.C. Department of Revenue. Its job is to review a-tax expenditures to ensure they comply with state law.

For the visitor’s center to receive both the $20,500 funding and the $10,500 accommodation tax windfall, Ross said the chamber would have to submit a marketing plan by June 15, showing how funds will be spent. If the funds do not go to an agency that promotes tourism by June 30, Ross said, the town must return them to the state.

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