Berkeley County is considering which nonprofits will get grants next year to help bring tourists to the area. The money is under increased scrutiny as the county shifts away from giving the majority of it to the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce.
Some County Council members question whether the county should support organizations that aren't based in the county or those that don't fill up Berkeley's hotels.
The Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee recommends giving away $416,200 of the tax collections to about a dozen organizations.
The tax is a 2 percent levy on hotel and motel rooms that brings in about $500,000 a year in the county. By state law, the money is to be spent promoting tourism.
Included in this year’s recommendations are the Alvin Recreation League, the Berkeley Museum, high school bass clubs, Southeastern Wildlife Exposition and Flowertown Festival.
County Council is expected to discuss the committee's recommendations at its Nov. 26 meeting. Committee Chairman Jim Rozier presented the suggestions to a council committee on Nov. 13.
This year, there was $1.1 million in requests, Rozier said.
“Every project here is a good project,” he said.
Some council members expressed concern about giving money to groups outside of the county, like the wildlife expo and Summerville’s annual festival, each recommended for $10,000 grants.
“How much bang do we get for that buck?” asked Councilman Jack Schurlknight. “The main objective of these funds is to put more heads in beds.”
During both festivals, visitors spill over into Berkeley County’s hotels, Rozier said.
“The other thing that I think we get ... is that we get spotlighted in a very, very positive way,” he said.
Councilman Kevin Cox agreed that the two events are worth investing in but questioned other recommendations that do not result in overnight stays, such a $200,000 request from Cypress Gardens, which already gets about $1 million in taxpayer money each year.
Cypress Gardens has been closed since October 2015 due to damage from flooding, but officials hope to reopen in early 2019.
On their own, Berkeley’s destinations — including Cypress Gardens, Mepkin Abbey, Old Santee Canal Park — will not make an impact on tourism in the county, Rozier said.
“But by putting these things together, we give a reason for people to stay two or three or four days in Berkeley County,” he said.
This is the second year the committee has suggested spreading the money around to several organizations.
In 1994, the chamber and the hoteliers petitioned Berkeley County Council to create the tax, with the county keeping 20 percent and the rest going to the chamber.
But in 2016, County Council appointed new members to the committee and the method of doling out money changed with the chamber getting much less money.
Last year, funds went to several groups that hold annual festivals, such as the Alvin Catfish Festival, high school bass fishing clubs, Daniel Island Performing Arts Center, Berkeley County Museum, Blueways Paddling Trails, a TV fishing show, and the S.C. Battleground Preservation Trust.
At its Nov. 26 meeting, County Council will also discuss whether to restore the allocation to the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, which did not receive any funds last year due to a federal investigation that Director Elaine Morgan says is now over.