Council adopts tourism, hospitality taxes

WINNSBORO – In a series of 4-1 votes, County Council members approved final readings of ordinances that establish a new tourism development fee, a hospitality tax and business registration fee. The ordinance taxes and fees will not go into effect until summer.

Councilman Douglas Pauley voted against all three measures, including amendments that deferred implementation until July 1.

Council members Bertha Goins and Mikel Trapp were absent for the vote.

After the meeting, Pauley said he didn’t oppose implementing the taxes.

However, he felt there was room for more discussion about the ordinances, including attentional impacts on residents and local merchants.

“I just think that there was still a lot of uncertainty,” Pauley said. “I think there were two citizens who came to speak in public input at the last meeting, and they were here again tonight seeking clarification on how the money would be spent.“

The tourism development fee increases by three cents the sales tax on stays at hotels, motels and other lodging in the unincorporated areas of Fairfield County. It will remain in effect for the next 20 years, according to the ordinance.

Money raised by the tax, which functions more like an accommodations tax, can be spent for the following purposes:

  • Investigating the feasibility of the construction of public meeting facilities
  • Construction of public meeting facilities
  • Other enhancements to services used by tourists delegates within or outside the County of Fairfield

The local hospitality fee adds two cents of tax to prepared foods, such as restaurants. It will also last for the next 20 years.

Revenues will be spent on the following purposes:

  • Tourism related capital projects
  • The support of tourism and tourist services in a manner that will best serve the tourists from whom it was collected.
  • Money can also be used “as a funding source to pay indebtedness issued by the County for public purposes,” the ordinance states.

Fairfield County’s business registration fee adds a nominal flat fee of $15 that businesses will pay annually.

The fee’s purpose is mainly one of accountability, giving county leaders a more accurate accounting of who’s doing business in Fairfield.

Residents continued to express mixed feelings about the new taxes and fees at Monday’s meeting.

Fairfield County resident Chris Griffiths thought the county should be doing more to market I-77 as a way to attract industry. He questioned whether there is sufficient workforce to support all of the industry the county is trying to attract.

“I have nobody coming to my business asking for work, even for a minimal, push a broom [job],” he said. “With a hospitality tax, you’re taxing the citizens of the county; you’re not taxing the tourists.”

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright said he agreed there was some lingering confusion over the taxes, but still believed they were needed to help Fairfield County to combat blight.

“In concept I support these ordinances because we have to do things differently in Fairfield County,” Bright said. “Investment through revenue is the way to go.”

Council members have said similar taxes already exist in most other South Carolina counties.

“Fairfield County is one of the very few counties in the state that does not have a hospitality tax,” said Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas. “We need it because of industry. We are not going to have industry until we get a sewer plant built.“

Councilwoman Bertha Goins, who later joined the meeting via speakerphone, said enhancing water and sewer services is the foundation of improving quality of life and attracting industry. She thinks the new fees will help Fairfield achieve those goals.

“We have to start using what we have now to get to that point,“ Goins said. “It is necessary and it will work if we allow it. New changes are sometimes hard to do but they can be extremely beneficial and they work if we allow them to.“