Hell Hole Swamp Festival turns 40 (copy)

An old train depot serves as headquarters for the Hell Hole Swamp Festival in Jamestown, which received $5,000 from Berkeley County's accommodations tax collections earlier this year. Provided

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce is rallying support from the community to help hotel operators regain control of the county’s accommodations tax funds.

But Deputy Supervisor Tim Callanan has other ideas for those funds. 

Chamber President Kevin Housand asked members in an email this week to attend Monday’s County Council Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting to show support for the lodging industry.

The accommodations tax is a 2 percent levy on hotel rooms that is intended to be spent to promote tourism. It generates about $500,000 annually in Berkeley County.

Callanan’s suggestion includes marketing the county through Santee Cooper Country and the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau while also commissioning marketing studies.

The hoteliers plan to ask that the money be given to a new group they are forming, according to Chamber Executive Director Elaine Morgan.

The council has discussed the tax at length during the last few months, even taking steps to abolish it, but that proposal never made it out of committee after second reading.

“I’m kind of shocked that it’s back on the agenda,” Councilman Kevin Cox said Friday.

Since the tax was created, the chamber has received almost all the funds, but in May, council voted to give the chamber only $187,000 for the 2016-17 fiscal year, citing a federal investigation over how the money has been spent in the past. The FBI does not confirm or deny investigations.

County Council also voted to hold that money until the chamber was cleared or until Cox has reviewed the chamber’s records, which he said the organization has refused to provide.

“I have not heard a word since then,” he said. “If you have nothing to hide, why not hand over your records? They refused to do it and I don’t know why.”

Friday, Morgan said she could not discuss the investigation, but Monday’s presentation “has nothing to do with the chamber.”

She said the hotel owners have formed a new group that aims to become a nonprofit, and it would like to oversee the tax funds.

In 1994, the chamber and the hoteliers petitioned council to create the tax, with the county keeping 20 percent and the rest going to the Chamber.

Last year, council appointed a new accommodations tax committee that shifted the spending focus to festivals, a smart phone app, a TV fishing show and other events.

“Control of these funds was removed from the very people who generate the funds,” Housand wrote in his email. “The lodging owners fully expect Berkeley County Council to uphold the original commitment made to them: the commitment that these funds will continue to be utilized solely for the promotion of overnight stays with oversight by the lodging members.”

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Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713. Follow her on Twitter @brindge.