MONCKS CORNER -- A committee's effort to be more transparent with the money from taxes and fees on hotel rooms in Berkeley County is getting mixed reviews.
The Berkeley County Accommodation Tax Advisory Committee revised its procedures last year after some groups said they weren't notified of the application process and others complained of poor record keeping. The state agency that oversees the money also has been demanding more accountability.
The response has been a little better this year, although a couple of groups found the new rules burdensome.
Three groups have applied for money so far this year, compared with one group all of last year.
Two of the groups that applied at the committee's spring meeting got $1,000 each. A third group was ruled ineligible because it was not a nonprofit, which is required by the state. The committee made its decisions last month and will meet again in the fall if it has more applications to consider.
The Berkeley County Family YMCA got $1,000 for its July 4th Festival in the Park. Last year the festival drew more than 2,000 people to Old Santee Canal Park, according to the application.
The Berkeley Soil and Water Conservation District also got $1,000 to promote its Berkeley County Blueways, a system of waterways for kayaking.
A request for money to advertise the Breath of Spring Flower Show at Cypress Gardens was denied because the group was not a nonprofit.
The garden club is not a nonprofit group because the IRS considers garden clubs as fraternal or social and not charitable organizations, flower show organizer Laurette Sweet of Pinopolis said.
"It's become very difficult to become a nonprofit," she said.
She said she hopes to work with another nonprofit group for next year's show. She will also have to demonstrate that the flower show draws tourists to hotel rooms, Buckles said.
Last year, the only group to apply for the hotel tax money was the Hell Hole Swamp Festival, which got $500. The festival, which will be held May 6-7 in Jamestown, did not apply this year. Town Council Clerk Chris Pipkin said the person she asked to do it couldn't get all the information to fill out the new application.
"We sure could have used the money," she said. "They wanted some things that we didn't even have the information for. We used to just write a general letter saying how we would use the money. They're making everything a lot more complicated than it used to be."
The application is more in-depth than it used to be because the state is demanding more accountability on how the tax money is spent, Tax Committee Chairman Oliver Buckles said.
The Chamber of Commerce will conduct a seminar on how to plan and apply for money for festivals that draw tourists in May, Chief Executive Officer Elaine Morgan pointed out.
The Hell Hole Swamp Festival can still apply for money, Buckles said. The application says a qualifying group can get reimbursement for expenses after an event.
"We're going to look out for them one way or another," he said.
The money that was awarded comes from a 2 percent state tax on hotels in the unincorporated areas. That tax is expected to bring in about $50,000 this year. The Chamber of Commerce will use most of it for advertisements to promote tourism.
The county also imposes a 2 percent fee on hotel rooms. Because that fee includes hotels in towns and cities, as well as the unincorporated areas, the pot is much bigger; it's expected to be about $275,000 this year. The chamber also uses that money to promote tourism.
The chamber recently reported that overnight stays at county hotels are up 8 percent from a year ago.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.