Charleston already welcomes more than 6 million tourists per year. So it’s hard to imagine that the most urgent use of accommodations tax funds is to lure even more visitors.
But state lawmakers apparently think so. They failed to reach a compromise this year on a bill that would have allowed accommodations tax revenue to go toward flooding fixes in areas that draw a lot of tourism.
In other words, it’s more important to promote a place than to make sure there’s still a place worth promoting. That’s a disappointingly short-sighted notion. We got a reminder of the area's vulnerability Friday when 6 inches of rain shut down parts of the city and also made the morning commute dangerous in nearby areas.
No, accommodations taxes can’t solve Charleston’s flooding woes. Charleston County pulls in a little over $14 million annually from the tax, which is charged for hotel stays, restaurant meals, bar tabs and other hospitality services.
Even if the county were to funnel all of that money into flood mitigation projects within Charleston city limits, it would take well over a century to raise the estimated $2 billion needed to cover identified problems. By that time, sea levels are expected to be markedly higher -- possibly to a catastrophic degree.
It would be way too late. In fact, for too many families who have faced repeated flooding over the past few years, it’s already too late.
Still, a few million dollars per year in extra funding to fight flooding would certainly be welcome. It’s obviously going to take a variety of revenue sources to afford the staggering cost of building a more resilient region. There’s no reason the accommodations tax should be left out of the mix.
Besides, the controversy over the bill was entirely unwarranted. It’s reasonable enough to ask that tourism taxes be used to fund tourism-related projects.
But virtually the entire Charleston peninsula is tourism-related. So is Mount Pleasant’s Old Village, which has also struggled with problem flooding. And area beaches prone to erosion. Visitors come to Charleston to experience those places. They would be a lot less charming underwater.
Of course, there are also a lot of flood prevention and mitigation needs in parts of the area that are less popular with tourists. Those concerns must not be ignored or relegated to a lower priority. Spending accommodations tax money in tourism districts could and should free up other money to be used elsewhere.
And again, this is urgent. Some homes in the Charleston area, including in the Historic District where accommodations tax funds could be a big help, have flooded three or more times over the past few years, costing residents thousands of dollars in repairs. Those families can hardly afford to wait years for desperately needed relief.
The accommodations tax bill’s supporters vowed to take it up again when the next legislative session starts in January. That’s certainly important. Let’s hope it won’t be too late for another group of vulnerable Charleston homeowners.