Taxes, fees get second vote

Tommy Morgan

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County is one meeting away from enacting a pair of tourism-related taxes aimed at growing tourism and combating blight.

Council members voted unanimously Monday night on two ordinances – a 3 percent tourism development fee and a 2 percent hospitality tax.

The council also passed second reading of an ordinance establishing a business registration fee.

Several residents spoke about the new taxes and fees during public participation and public hearings.

Brad Hoffman of Blair raised concerns that the ordinances lacked specificity.

Carol Turner of Mitford also thought the tax ordinances were ambiguous.

“We need details on this. I too am a farmer, trying to make ends meet. We’d like to know just a little bit more about it,” Turner said. “These are issues that are a little bit cloudy. I know the idea is to get folks from outside of our county, but how will this affect people who already live in our county.”

Randy Bright of Ridgeway, a supporter of the taxes, said they are needed to rejuvenate Fairfield County and make it more attractive.

“The diagnosis is in. Fairfield County has been caught up in an epidemic,” Bright said. “Our property taxes have plummeted. County services are strained. Our attractiveness for new business has declined.”

County Council retained the title “tourism development fee” in the 3 percent tax on accommodations, despite confusion over similar fees elsewhere in South Carolina.

Tommy Morgan, county attorney, said several communities including Greenville, Lexington and Charleston counties, refer to their room tax as a tourism fee, even though it’s based on the accommodations tax law.

Fairfield County would be no different, he said.

“It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with that,” Morgan said. “That’s just a different way to provide a name for it. It’s trying to develop tourism by that fee.”

In 2009, the City of Myrtle Beach adopted a tourism development fee.

There, an extra 1 percent of tax was added on top of local accommodations taxes. It required a referendum to pass and included a property tax credit for locals as prescribed in state law.

Morgan said the Myrtle Beach fee is unique, applying only to the Grand Strand tourism hub. He said state law was written specifically for Myrtle Beach.

“It requires $14 million in sales taxes [and doesn’t] apply anywhere in the state,” Morgan said. “That’s not an issue that’s before the council today.”

Fairfield County only collected about $37,000 to $38,000 in sales taxes last year, Morgan added.

Some residents also questioned the hospitality tax, which adds 2 cents of tax to prepared foods.

“We need to clarify what we have to charge and why our rates are going up,” Hoffman said.

“I know the idea is to get people traveling thru our county to help fund some of the expenses of our county,” Turner added. “But this is focused on the unincorporated areas. I live at Exit 48, and there are a lot of locals who eat there.”

Third reading could take place as soon as the council’s next meeting, tentatively scheduled for March 25.

The third fee – a business registration fee – imposes a nominal $15 fee per business.

Council members have said the reason for the fee is designed to help get an accurate count on existing businesses while also cracking down on businesses operating illegally.

Comments

  1. Gwen Bannister says

    All these taxes are going to keep people from coming here even more so. Comparing Fairfield to Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Greenville, etc. Isn’t equal. You got to compare population to population.

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