James Island eyes new hospitality tax

James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey

A new tax on prepared food in the town of James Island is expected to raise about $450,000 annually that will be used for Folly Road improvements, Mayor Bill Woolsey said.

Town Council has voted 4-1 in favor of the 2 percent hospitality tax, and a second and final vote is planned for May 19. If approved, the new tax would take effect July 1.

“I’m not happy about the hospitality tax or any other tax, but I think it’s a reasonable way to provide the town’s share to fund improvements on Folly Road,” Woolsey said.

Councilman Garrett Milliken cast the vote against the hospitality tax because he said it will be a burden for residents and restaurant owners. The tax would increase the cost of dining out for locals and impose new accounting requirements on the businesses that serve them, he said.

Milliken said the hospitality tax conflicts with the original vision of the town as a government that aims to reduce the tax burden on residents.

Funds raised through the hospitality tax would be used for the sort of improvements suggested in the recently completed “Rethink Folly Road — A Complete Streets Study,” Woolsey said.

The $500,000 recommended making Folly friendlier for cyclists and pedestrians and improving its street signals. The study was a collaboration between the town, Charleston, Folly Beach, Charleston County, the state Department of Transportation, the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority and the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments.

Woolsey said the town might provide matching funds to help improve the traffic lights on Folly.

“We will be using the money to improve Folly Road. That’s basically the goal. Exactly what that’s going to amount to and how that is going to work out we are not sure,” he said.

Many restaurants on James Island are within the city of Charleston, which already has a similar tax. Woolsey said the town’s new levy would affect about two dozen existing restaurants and a few convenience stores that also sell food and drinks.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at (843) 937-5711.