Town bed-tax panel OKs wine fest, rejects Mitchelville, airport requests

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Town bed-tax panel OKs wine fest, rejects Mitchelville, airport requests

By TOM BARTON
tbarton@islandpacket.com
Published Thursday, December 8, 2011   |  814 Words  |  

The Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival will go on next year and may get town tax money from overnight lodging to do it.

Funding for the county-owned island airport and Mitchelville Preservation Project, however, were rejected.

A town advisory committee made recommendations Thursday for the Town Council to award almost $797,000 to nonprofit organizations seeking grants for next year.

Among the recommendations was $34,000 to the Hilton Head Hospitality Association to promote the 27th annual wine festival, to be held March 5-10 at Honey Horn. It had requested $70,400.

The association sought to disband in June after 25 years because of waning membership and lack of money, but it is still intact, according to board member Tami Bream. It has since switched to an all-volunteer group with an executive committee and changed its tax-exempt status from general nonprofit to a membership trade group, Bream said.

The group forfeited about $100,000 a year in local hospitality taxes from the town after it laid off its paid director and canceled other events it hosted, because it could no longer maintain the same level of service, association leaders have said.

"We are among a few international wine judging events in the country and a large wine tasting event on the East Coast," Bream said. "If we don't get the money, we won't be able to advertise and promote the event, which would be criminal."

Committee members were afraid of losing an event some say has become a major attraction.

However, committee vice chairman Willis Shay warned that the grant is not "a blank check" and that the association needs to become better organized.

AIRPORT DENIED

The Hilton Head Island Airport's request for $115,237 to help close a shortfall of more than $300,000 for police and fire protection was rejected.

Shay argued that the airport has made money over the past three years when not factoring in depreciation and didn't need a bed-tax grant.

State law says local governments can use bed-tax dollars for law enforcement and fire protection when required to serve tourists and tourist facilities. But Shay pointed to an S.C. Tourism Expenditure Review Committee opinion that bed-tax money cannot be used as added revenue for services normally provided.

County Airports Board chairman Joe Mazzei responded that the state committee allows the town to use bed-tax money for island-wide fire and EMS service to accommodate an estimated 2 million annual visitors.

"It's unconscionable airport fire protection services are treated differently than the town," Mazzei said.

The federal government, though, regulates and partially pays for the airport services. The town is not regulated or reimbursed for its, said town attorney Brian Hulbert.

MITCHELVILLE REJECTED

The advisory committee also denied a $100,000 request to develop a master plan for a memorial park to commemorate Mitchelville, the first freed-slave village in the United States.

The request included surveys, historical and cultural research, archeology, mapping and a business plan.

Shay pointed to another opinion from the state tourism committee that says bed-tax revenue cannot be used for planning, but it can pay for construction, maintenance and operations.

The town committee members said they like the Mitchelville park proposal, but it needs to be up and running before it could receive their financial support.

Mitchelville project chairwoman Fran White said visitors have already come "to see the location, hear the story and see what's planned," and some have spent money on overnight lodging to do so.

"It's disingenuous to say they can only fund us with a building there," she said of work the group has done to market and educate people of the site.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

Related Content

  1. Hilton Head Wine & Food Festival
  2. Mitchelville Preservation Project
  3. Hilton Head airport officials lobby for town bed-tax dollars: Nov. 29, 2011
  4. Bed-tax applicants down; airport request scrutinized: Oct. 18, 2011
  5. Hilton Head accommodations tax panel winnows requests: Dec. 8, 2010
  6. Groups make plea for Hilton Head accommodations tax revenue: Nov. 29, 2010
  7. More groups seeking more 'bed-tax' money from Hilton Head: Oct. 16, 2010