County's festival of funding
What's the biggest tourist draw for Charleston County: the Spoleto Festival, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, the Gibbs Museum of Art ... or a farmers market at Rantowles? Judging from a recent County Council allocation, the farmers market tops the list.
The market, a pet project of County Councilman Curtis Inabinett and County Register of Mesne Conveyance Charlie Lybrand, received $12,500 in county accommodations tax money set aside for tourism promotion.
That figure was nearly $3,000 more than the county contributed to Spoleto Festival USA, and about $4,000 more than the Wildlife Exposition received. The Gibbs received $5,000 less.
Indeed, of all the recipients, only three will receive more than the farmers market.
Council is directed to give accommodations tax dollars like these to efforts that will increase tourism.
It is instructive that the proposal did not receive a high enough ranking from the Convention and Visitors Bureau to receive funding.
The county asked the Bureau to evaluate all the applications and rank them. The CVB used a scale that required an applicant to get at least 25 points to receive funding. The farmers market received 16 points.
Council's task was to divide up a $150,323 pot of accommodations tax money -- much smaller than in previous years. The Post and Courier's David Slade reported that half of the organizations that applied will get none.
Money given for the farmers market comes from a portion of the accommodations tax money earmarked for use in unincorporated areas. The Sea Islands Small Farmer Cooperative, which Councilman Inabinett helped establish, was the only organization to apply in that category.
The dearth of applicants and the fact that a majority of the council felt compelled to fund the sole applicant for the unincorporated part of the county suggest that category ought to be eliminated. Let all applicants compete together.
As Councilman Dickie Schweers observed, the money didn't have to be spent. If the applicants didn't meet the criteria, the funding could be redirected to applicants in incorporated areas, or it could be held over until next year. Councilmen Paul Thurmond and Joe McKeown joined with Mr. Schweers to vote against the market funding.
Mr. Thurmond was particularly critical: "Quite honestly, the situation just reeks of politics. We've been lobbied on this issue, in my opinion."
A successful farmers co-op near Rantowles could be a boon to people who live and work in that area. Those who are involved in it are to be commended.
But County Council took ill-advised liberties with accommodations tax money to fund it.