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Wednesday
Jul252018

Hospitality Tax Deserves Better than November Referendum

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

For more than two years, the Anderson Observer has been an advocate for a two percent hospitality tax in the unincorporated areas of Anderson County. The idea has been kicked down the road by county council and squashed iby "town hall" meetings on the subjet, meetings which traditionally only attract the opposition to any topic. We all deserve better.

County Council has shown remakable leadership over the past decade. Their cooperative efforts have helped navigate the county into the enviable position of being among the nation's leaders in recovering from the Great Recession of 2008. Working with the Anderson County Economic Develoment team led by Burris Nelson and his staff, and Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns, the county has thrived. Unemployment is so low there are more good job openings than applicants available. The county has reduced debt, begun improving roads and set out a strategy for a airport terminal, better roads and sewers and instituted cooperative efforts with the schools to provide targeted job training to meet the needs of the county's growing high-tech industries. 

But last week, Anderson County Council announced it will ask voter to consider an two-percent hospitaiity tax in a non-binding referendum this November. Sadly, this is rare misfire by council, one which only serves to delay what council should have already put in place at least two years ago. It is a continuation of an unusaly blind spot, one fed by concerns generated by the small minority of loud "anti-any-tax" voices at the expense of Anderson County.

For some reason, council is frozen on this move which would clearly benefit all citizens without any real financial burden.

A two-percent hospitality tax on prepared foods sold in unincorporated areas of Anderson County would generate more than $3 million each year for county parks and recreation programs.

The county’s municipalities and townships already have this tax in place and are reaping substantial benefits. The tax generated more than $2.5 million last year for the City of Anderson alone. 

Opposition to this tax has been largely marked by misunderstanding and misinformation, largely driven by the hyperbolic voices of those who ignore the facts to fit their uniformed fear-based propaganda. Here is a sampling of the erroneous propaganda being circulated about the hospitality tax, along with corrections: 

1. The new tax would raise rates to four percent in some areas.

False.  It will not be added to the two percent already being charged, but will percent will only be in effect in places not already covered by the tax. So it is not four percent anywhere, it would just put the unincorporated areas of the county in line with all other restaurants. 

2. The hospitality tax will negatively impact business in local restaurants. 

False. None of the restaurants which I talked to, three dozen at last count, which already have the hospitality tax can tell any difference on business.  Hamid Mohsseni, who owns both Carson’s Steakhouse and Tucker’s - one of which is in the city and one in the county’s unincorporated areas even though their parking lots are adjacent - said he hasn’t seen any difference in business between the two, even though one currently has the tax and the other does not.

3. The hospitality tax would be a burden on those with fixed incomes.

False. Any argument saying the tax would be a burden on underprivileged residents is a little silly. It is hard to imagine anyone who can afford to dine out being unable to pay an extra two cents on every dollar spent on food. A $50 dining bill would bring an extra charge of only $1. In addition, more than half of the areas impacted by the new tax are places frequented largely by those who don’t live in the county. This allows the county to fund programs from funds paid largely by visitors.

5. Recreation in the county is best left to the private sector.

False, at least in the opinion of other counties. None of our neighboring counties see it that way, and neither do the companies from around the world looking for a place to locate or relocate - something essential to Anderson County since we have more international business than any other county in the state, 51 firms from 23 countries have brought good, high-paying jobs, helping us survive and pull out of the Depression of 2008. 

Even domestic companies rate recreation activities as very high on their punch list when choosing a location.

Here are some facts worth noting: 

 

  1. Anderson is already behind our neighboring counties in our approach to recreation, and it is time to catch up. The county’s recreation is currently largely the efforts of 18 non-profit groups in Anderson. The county does has facilities, the civic center, for example. But it is the YMCA, City Recreation Program and other local groups which fill the fields with sporting events and tournaments, putting us well behind Greenville and Spartanburg which fund recreation through a combination of general revenue from property taxes and hospitality taxes. We should be leaders, no lagging behind our neighbors.
  2. It is also important to note, not only would the civic center would be one of the biggest winners of the hospitality tax (along with the counties other parks), but the funds generated will save property owners money long-term. Why? Because as the civic center ages and the population grows, the facilities there are going to require funding, and that money will have to come from either raising taxes on property owners or the proposed hospitality tax. 
  3. It cannot be denied that both Greenville and Spartanburg counties are aggressively marketing their recreation opportunities in economic development. 

 

First and Foremost, the Hospitality Tax is About Economic Development

 The bottom line is, the hospitality tax is really about economic development. Without a vision for the future of recreation in the county, and a way to fund it without raising taxes on property owners, there could be trouble ahead attracting new investment of top firms. Hartwell Lake is an amazing resource, but one the county has only managed to take advantage in any meaningful way through federal settlement money, not taxes. Green Pond’s Phase One has been a good start, but there is more to be done, and not enough money to do it.

Then there are the local recreation needs. The Powdersville area has grown exponentially, too rapidly to keep up with the needs of the population in many areas. Being unincorporated, they have no other way to generate revenue. These residents deserve better, as do all the residents of Anderson County when it comes to improving and continuing to improve the quality of life here.

There are no legitimate downsides to a hospitality tax for Anderson County’s unincorporated areas. It is a crucial move for the future of economic development and for the quality of life of our citizens.

Many of the same opponents to this tax opposed the East-West Parkway, something most of them probably use every day. Anderson has a long history of missing or delaying progress. We let the railroad hub go to Greenville, for example, because in the past lack of visionary leadership could not look beyond the current fiscal quarter and seek a path providing for the long-term benefits for all of our citizens.

The current council has broken that streak, and for the last decade helped set the county on a solid course for the future, with a glaring exception - the refusal to approve a hospitality tax.

Funding the future without adding to the tax burden of property owners is a no-brainer. 

Giving more ammunition to Economic development and improving the quality of life for all citizens while keeping property taxes in check are two clear reasons for jettisoning the idea of a referendum and moving forward to fulfill the role of elected official and putting the hospitality tax in place now.

Unless those who oppose this tax can put forth a specific plan to accomplish the same goals, and so far no one has, all the town hall meetings and opinions in the county expressing opposition are worth little.

I encourage those who love Anderson and are invested in a great future will contact their council representative to express their concern that emotions and misinformation may mean the hospitality tax could be in jeopardy if put to a citizen vote. Council needs to hear from the overwhelming majority of reasoned citizens who support the hospitality tax, and now is the time for such contact.

Contact your council member here. 

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