Switzer requests $7,643 for Visitors

BLYTHEWOOD – After receiving $18,500 earlier this year to operate the town’s Visitor Center, the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce says it needs nearly $7,700 more.

In April, the chamber asked the Town of Blythewood for $7,643 in additional funding to cover expenses associated with the Visitor Center which opened a year ago.

Blythewood Town Council approved the appropriation at the April 23 meeting, designated state accommodations tax revenue as the funding source.

The funding request comes on the heels of the chamber claiming a deficit of $4,885 months after reporting a $5,755 surplus, according to federal tax records obtained by The Voice.

Mike Switzer, executive director of the Blythewood chamber, told council members last week that the deficit is due to additional costs incurred in running the visitors center.

Switzer, however, characterized the $5,755 surplus and $4,885 deficit as “apples and oranges” in a subsequent email exchange with The Voice.

“The numbers from last night were strictly visitor center numbers, not total chamber numbers,” Switzer said.

On April 23, Switzer told council members the $4,885 deficit has accumulated over the past six months. He anticipates an additional shortfall of $2,758 in the next six months, accounting for the $7,643 request.

“A lot of this deficit is startup costs of putting the extra hours into getting it (the center) up and running,” Switzer said. “The situation we have is the doors are open from 9-5. Before we signed the lease, we were already in there a year and our hours were 10-2. That’s what we could afford.

“When we were asked to take over the Visitor Center, we were asked to operate it 9-5,” Switzer continued. “We’re just three part-time people rotating it. We’re trying to keep it open.”

Council members approved the full funding request by a 4-1 vote. Mayor J. Michael Ross dissented.

Ross said he supported funding the chamber, but only enough to cover the existing deficit of $4,885.

“I support you, I just don’t support the total number here,” he said. “I’ve always been on the conservative side.”

Other council members were generally supportive of granting the chamber’s full request, though some expressed a desire for the chamber to be more self-sustaining.

“You can’t get bailed out every year,” said Councilman Eddie Baughman. “That money, I’d like you to stay within that working frame.”

From surplus to deficit

No visitors center expenses are listed on the chamber’s 2016 federal tax return obtained by The Voice. The reporting period is from July 30, 2016 to July 1, 2017, prior to the chamber taking over the center.

But tax records also show a surplus of $5,755 in 2016, with total annual revenues of $75,477 and expenses of $70,381. Net assets carried over from 2015 accounted for the remaining $689, tax records state.

Although Switzer characterized chamber and visitors center finances as separate, council documents do not make that distinction.

A memo included in the April 23 agenda packet states the Town of Blythewood already provides $18,500 to the chamber “for the purpose of operating a Visitor Center.”

The $18,500 in funding also comes from a-tax revenues collected within the city limits. South Carolina charges a 2 percent accommodation tax on hotel rooms and vacation rentals.

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