Big Grab over A-Tax Funds

Applicants offered $5K; Mayor: Take it or leave it

BLYTHEWOOD – After the Accommodation Tax (A-Tax) committee passed last week on choosing one of two applicants (the Greater Blythewood Chamber and shop owner Theresa McKendrick) to receive $10,000 in A-Tax funds to run the Blythewood portion of this year’s Big Grab event, council was left to make the choice with the only recommendation from the A-Tax committee being that it limit funding for the event to $5,000.

Rich McKendrick, who addressed council Monday night on behalf of his wife, Theresa, criticized merchants who, he said, supported her to apply for the A-tax funds to spearhead the Big Grab, but on the day of the A-tax committee meeting did not support her application. Those business connections, however, said that when they found out McKendrick’s application included $4,000 in staff pay, the assignment of vendors to the park and the sale of sponsorships – expenses they said they opposed from the get go – they could not support it.

Those merchants said they were looking for an alternative to the chamber’s Big Grab megasite of vendors in the park last year that took much of their Big Grab business out of the town where it was originally designed to go. They also expressed their opposition to having to pay for sponsorships and for the A-tax money going to pay for thousands of dollars for staff pay.

Kitty Kelly, office manager for the chamber, told council that the chamber did not receive any of its staff pay from A-Tax funds.

“I don’t know where that’s coming from,” Kelly said.

“Kitty, on the application you filled out for A-Tax funds, you designated ‘Blythewood chamber/visitor center staff, $5,000.’ That’s what your organization asked the A-Tax committee for to pay the chamber’s staff…$5,000 to administer the Big Grab,” Ross said, holding up the chamber’s application.

“It’s $5,000 just to rent the park and pay Richland County (sheriff’s deputies),” Kelly said.

As Switzer approached the podium, Ross told Kelly, “I think you need to let Mr. Switzer explain this.”

“Yes, there are staff costs involved. Sponsorship and vendor fees have covered our staff costs,” Switzer said.

However, the chamber’s application for A-Tax funds for this year and past years clearly listed staff salaries as coming out of A-Tax funds.  Further, while the chamber’s application listed its Big Grab budget at $10,000, the budget was actually $14,500. McKendrick’s budget was $15,000.

Ross said council wanted to cover all the essential expenses for putting on the Big Grab – sheriff’s deputies, port-a-johns, marketing, etc. – with the caveat that council would receive receipts for those expenses. He said he felt the $5,000 would cover those expenses.

“We’re not fools,” Ross said. “If we don’t give a dime to this, the Big Grab will happen and the vendors will set up in town and the businesses will do well.” He also suggested that the town could take over running the event but said he didn’t want to take an opportunity away from organizations that want to do it the right way.

“We don’t want to bring people into our park to take them away from the businesses,” Ross said.

Councilman Brian Franklin, however, ignoring merchant’s claims that the park vendors drastically reduce their business on Big Grab weekend, suggested still having as many as 50 vendors in the park.

Mayor J. Michael Ross first offered the $5,000 for management of the event to McKendrick who declined, saying she would not run it without staff pay ($4,000) and allocations for other things such as rental for the park.

Ross then offered the $5,000 to the chamber. Switzer said he was not turning the offer down but said the application was for $10,000 and that’s what he needed.

The mayor countered that the option was take it or leave it. Switzer left the room and did not return.

Council voted 4-1 to fund the chamber with the $5,000 if the chamber wanted to accept that amount and limit park vendors to 50. Councilman Eddie Baughman voted against. Otherwise, Ross said, the town would take over the Big Grab.

The chamber was to notify town hall of its decision by 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 25. That decision had not been made before The Voice went to press on Wednesday.