Downtown interest groups demand 100% of Charleston tourist taxes

Downtown interest groups demand 100% of Charleston tourist taxes
December 18 15:01 2017 Print This Article

The City of Charleston census data shows that 37,000 of the city’s 142,000 residents live on the Peninsula. Even considering that thousands are College of Charleston students and other part-time residents, the peninsula accounts for only 26% of the city population. Nevertheless, the Downtown tourist district has gotten virtually 100% of the special purpose tax money collected at hotels and restaurants to support the tourism industry. See the Charleston demographics here: http://www.charleston-sc.gov/DocumentCenter/View/14791

In 2017, Charleston will collect $6.1 Million from hotel visitors (accommodations tax) and $16.4 Million from prepared food and beverage patrons (hospitality tax). State law lists seven tourist-related expenditures the taxes may be used to support. At the December 11 City Council Ways and Means Committee meeting, Councilman Bill Moody moved to spend $500,000 from the hospitality tax fund to bury power lines in his district along Savannah Highway. The motion was adopted and carried over to the first reading of the City Council’s 2018 budget.

Among the seven items allowed for the tourist tax funds is “maintenance of access and other nearby roads and utilities for the (tourist-related) facilities.” In addition to improving the appearance of Savannah Highway, which is dotted with hotels, it also will help reduce power outages to hotels during storms. The Downtown interests are squawking about the $500,000 expenditure (and another $250,000 to upgrade Stoney Field near The Citadel, which may not comply with state law), contending that it should all go to the estimated $100 Million Battery Wall project.

While there is no question that the Battery Wall is in disrepair, the $100 Million price tag seems exorbitant. There are numerous tourist-related activities going on in West Ashley, James Island, Johns Island and Daniel Island and those areas are certainly deserving of tourist tax revenue. West Ashley is the home of Charles Towne Landing and the historic Plantation District on Ashley River Road. Hundreds of thousands of tourists travel along Folly Road to visit Folly Beach. Tourists drive through Johns Island to arrive at the Kiawah and Seabrook resorts. Daniel Island is home to the well-attended and nationally viewed Volvo Tennis Classic. The residents of these areas (and tourists who visit them) are paying the same 2% tax on prepared food and beverages as Downtown tourists.

In the 2018 budget, which will receive its second of three readings Tuesday at 5 pm, includes $3.4 Million in tourist tax revenue toward the 1.6 mile Lowline bicycle path in the downtrodden Eastside area. In its current condition, it is hard to envision tourists riding bicycles there. The taxpayers of Charleston need to take a much closer look at how tourist taxes are spent and ensure a more equitable distribution of the tax money they pay for prepared food and beverages.