Make sure bed tax grants meet intent, letter of law

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Make sure bed tax grants meet intent, letter of law

Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012   |  495 Words  |  

It is heartening that the city of Beaufort is tweaking its guidelines for those seeking accommodations tax grants.

Although the amount the city distributes -- about $155,000 last fiscal year -- is relatively modest, the grants can be make a difference to those seeking the money.

A sound method to decide what entities receive them is in order.

Beaufort seems determined to improve its process after years of dissatisfaction on the part of applicants, city officials and Tourism Development Advisory Commission members, who make funding recommendations to City Council.

Mayor Billy Keyserling correctly described in a newsletter to constituents that much of the dissatisfaction is rooted in the apparent dependency of some recipients on public money, as well as duplication of effort among recipients who make no attempt to collaborate.

The determination to fix these problems is commendable, particularly since that effort is largely shouldered by the volunteer advisory commission. Our gratitude comes with some unsolicited advice: Don't over-think this.

The state accommodations-tax law is fairly explicit about how this money can be doled out, what entities can receive it and how it can be spent. It's purpose also is clear: to support a community's tourism and cultural activities.

That leaves the advisory commission with a straightforward task, albeit a difficult one: Ensuring grant recipients use the money as they say they will and making sure those who come back for more the next year really did bring visitors to Beaufort.

This means the commission must audit -- audit applicants, audit the performance of past applicants and audit its own decisions.

Cooperation among groups is the new mantra. Keyserling cites the apparent redundancy of three organizations regularly receiving money for three separate tourism guides, none of them comprehensive. Indeed, multiple guides could constitute an inefficient use of public dollars.

Setting aside that the city could have said "no" to these requests, consider the possibility that the three guides target three distinct segments of the tourism industry and serve three distinct types of tourists. After all, the family of a graduating Marine comes to Beaufort for far different reasons than a boater, who has different interests than an artist.

A thick, mass-distributed tourist guide that aims to serve all three might actually constitute a less efficient use of tax dollars.

The case should not be overstated, of course -- the city certainly could use more cooperation and collaboration in some of its marketing efforts. However, cooperation and collaboration are not ends unto themselves; rather, they should be demanded only in service of the state law's higher aim, which is to see that the money is used to attract and serve tourists from beyond a 50-mile radius.

As such, first dibs belong to the groups that bring people here for overnight visits, whether they play nice with others or not.