SUMMERVILLE — Tracey Todd and Dorchester County Council members have found themselves in one of those awkward spots for public servants. The issue, naturally, is money.
Todd is the chairman of the county’s volunteer resident Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee. Councilman Jay Byars has questioned the committee’s recommended allotment of $9,500 to Middleton Place Foundation’s museum for fire prevention/electrical upgrades. The money is supposed to support activities that increase hotel occupancy.
Middleton Place, the National Historic Landmark plantation site on Ashley River Road, pulls in more than 100,000 visitors per year — making it one of the county’s few big-time draws — and its hotel business alone pays more than $32,000 per year in accommodations tax.
But, Todd is the foundation’s vice president for museums. And the county is in a legal battle trying to change the property tax status of 11 lots owned by Middleton Place Equestrian Center LLC.
That hung over the council last week when a vote on the allotments was tabled, to be revisited at the next meeting Oct. 7 in St. George.
The lots have been subdivided between the horse farm at Middleton Place and the Middleton Oaks development. Charles Duell, the foundation president, is the registered agent for the equestrian center company. The lots are now zoned — and taxed — for agriculture. The county wants to change that to a tax on developable lots, a change that would bring in tens of thousands dollars more in property tax, Councilman Larry Hargett said.
So, when Todd brought the committee’s recommendations to the council at its meeting earlier this month, the atmosphere was, um, charged. Todd left the room and did not vote on the committee’s decision to allocate money to Middleton, he told council.
Byars brought up that Middleton’s allotment was more than it had gotten in previous years, and the total allotted the county’s two museums doesn’t match it. He would like to better fund those operations.
“I have questions regarding how these moneys were allocated,” he said in a later interview. “When you have someone who is on the board and the money is going back to that entity, you need to make sure the money has been properly allocated.”
The property tax legal battle is a separate issue and doesn’t have anything to do with his concerns, he said. The county is scrambling to find money for both the struggling Summerville Dorchester Museum and the fledgling, up-by-its-bootstraps Upper Dorchester County Historical Society, which plans to open a museum in the old courthouse in St. George.
Byars also has concerns over the committee’s $1,093 allocation to Sculpture in the South, the Summerville-based arts education group dogged by funding struggles and some leadership burn-out.
“If they are losing money, I’m not sure we should throw good money after bad,” he told council.
Byars’ appointee to the tax committee wasn’t at the meeting when allotments were voted, he said; he just wants to have more details before voting. Hargett said Todd, his appointee, and other committee members acted properly.
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