Advisory board cuts back requests for safety grants
When the county’s Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee recommended that the Chamber of Commerce receive $111,851 less than what it asked for, chamber officials were disappointed.
“The marketing dollars get tighter and tighter and tighter and the expense for marketing jumped up just like everything else,” Chamber president Beth Stedman said. “We’re having to find ways through the chamber budget that have nothing to do with the tourism budget to support our marketing efforts. It’s increasingly challenging for us.”
“I was very worried about it and I totally agree,” committee chairman Lauren Joseph said. “Heads in beds is what the accommodations tax law is about. The people who pay this are the people who have heads in their beds.”
Stedman thanked the committee for its support and for the recommendation of $743,531.
By law, accommodations tax revenue, which the state collects as a 2 percent tax on short-term rentals, must be used for tourism-related activities.
The chamber was one of 18 nonprofits and county agencies that came before the committee last month asking for more than $2.1 million in grants. The county only has about $1.6 million to award.
The Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office suffered a deeper cut than the chamber. The sheriff asked for $669,253 for its beach patrol. The commitee recommended $238,728.
Committee member Vanessa Greene took Stedman’s words to heart. She was dismayed that the committee couldn’t go back and reconsider some of its recommendations.
“The Chamber of Commerce in this county is our major marketing vehicle,” said Greene, who joined the committee this year. “Had I realized that we were not going to do a second round in terms of looking again at our initial recommendations, I would have voted very differently for some of these other projects.”
Greene also thought too much money was going to purchase equipment for first responders. The committee recommended $415,804 for equipment and training.
“I know that organizations need equipment, but the money is really for marketing,” she said.
Joseph pointed out that the money is also for “tourism specific infrastructure,” like equipment to get people out of the ocean.
Greene asked that the committee change its procedures to have one round of discussion and then another round to vote on recommendations.
Joseph reminded everybody that the committee only makes recommendations. County Council has the final vote.
“When I present our recommendations to County Council, they can do what they want to with them,” she added. “They can take them, they can act on them or they can change them.”
The committee recommended fully funding eight requests for landscape maintenance or litter cleanup: $163,306 to the county’s Parks and Recreation Department for trash removal at beach accesses in Pawleys Island and Garden City and the bike path; $101,479 to the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association for beach support; $60,000 to the Mainstreet Pawleys Beautification Committee for Highway 17 median maintenance; $36,200 to Murrells Inlet 2020 for Highway 17 Bypass maintenance; $30,000 to Garden City Beach Community Association for highway median maintenance; $30,000 to the county’s Environment Services Department to fund its roadside litter crew; $20,000 to Pawleys Island Highway Beautification Program for Highway 17 median maintenance; and $14,580 to Brookgreen Gardens for Highway 17 median maintenance.
Committee member Drew Streett praised the Mainstreet Pawleys committee, which is planning a one-time reduction of the dead or dying plants in the median to reduce the maintenance costs going forward.
“Thank you for researching this to figure out how to reduce future recurring costs,” Streett said. “That’s the main reason I feel it’s important to fund this.”
Committee member Ebony Hughes made a motion to not fund the Garden City group’s request. It failed to get a second so no vote was taken.
Streett made a motion to fully fund the request and pointed out that Garden City is the largest source accommodations tax funds in the county.
“It’s a pretty small request for our largest revenue source,” Streett said.
His motion passed unanimously.
The only other requests that were recommended to be fully funded were: $7,000 to the Garden City Beach association for street lighting; and $5,000 to the Georgetown Business Association for the Georgetown Art Walk.
The GBA had also requested $40,000 for the food, beer and wine festival and Music in the Park, but was recommended for $18,000. The association also gets accommodations tax funds from the city.
“I don’t think we should be doubling what the city is giving them,” Streett said.
The sheriff had revised his funding request after the deadline so it was reduced to $532,163 for the salaries of two officers, six ATVs and four pickup trucks.
The committee’s recommendation of $238,728 would cover the salaries and buy one new ATV and one new truck.
Streett said the sheriff should look into buying the trucks over several years instead of all at once.
“We just don’t have the funds to fund an entire fleet,” he added.
Three requests from fire departments were also slashed.
Midway Fire and Rescue asked for $27,440 to bring in outside trainers and to buy drones that can be used to search for victims during water rescues. The recommendation was $19,440.
“Unfortunately we’ve got to make some cuts everywhere so we are trying our best up here,” committee member Billy Nicoles said. “That will at least get you all of your training and some of the equipment you asked for.”
The Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District asked for $154,383 to continue to fund the Murrells Inlet Marine Safety Initiative and to add information signs to county beach accesses. The committee removed the money for the signs because Georgetown County is already working on new signs and recommended $147,686.
“There’s no need to pay two entities to do the same signage,” Joseph said.
The county’s fire department asked for $75,000 to buy a rescue boat and equipment such as sonar. Streett recommended $9,950 for the equipment and told Chief Jim Falkenhagen to “figure out” how to find the money to buy the boat.
The other funding recommendations were: Hopsewee Preservation Foundation, $25,000 to restore an 18th Century slave cabin; Friendship Place, $10,00 for the Bridge2Bridge Run; SOS Health Care, $6,000 for a mac and cheese cookoff; and $2,500 to Murrells Inlet 2020 for its annual oyster roast.
Joseph will present the funding recommendations to County Council on Dec. 12.