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Charleston Residents Battle Over Tourism Tax Revenue

Are peninsular interests hogging the city’s tourism proceeds?

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A furious battle is underway in Charleston, South Carolina over proceeds from the city’s tourism taxes.

According to Lowcountry Source, “the taxpayers of Charleston need to take a much closer look at how tourist taxes are spent and ensure a more equitable distribution of the tax money they pay for prepared food and beverages.”

The rub?  According to this outlet, powerful interests on Charleston’s historic peninsula have been hogging the lion’s share of these levies – leaving citizens in West Ashley, James Island, Johns Island and Daniel Island holding the bag.

Charleston collects more than $22.5 million annual in accommodations and food taxes, which critics say disproportionately benefits the 26 percent of the city’s population residing on the peninsula.

“The Downtown tourist district has gotten virtually 100 percent of the special purpose tax money collected at hotels and restaurants to support the tourism industry,” the authors of Lowcountry Source noted.

Downtown interests want future tourism tax revenue to go toward a ten-year, $100 million upgrade of the peninsula’s famed Battery Wall – a 100-year-old structure city officials contend needs to be raised and reinforced.

“While there is no question that the Battery Wall is in disrepair, the $100 million price tag seems exorbitant,” the publication’s authors noted.

Instead of pumping all of this money toward the Battery Wall project, City councilman Bill Moody wants to spend $500,000 in tourism tax funds to bury power lines along the Savannah Highway in West Ashley – which is part of his eleventh district (map).  According to Moody, this expenditure conforms to one of the permitted uses of such revenues – namely the “maintenance of access and other nearby roads and utilities for the (tourist-related) facilities.”

Charleston’s annual budget for the coming year is $210.3 million – roughly 5 percent bigger than the budget for the current year.

Stay tuned … we’ll keep an eye on this spat as it unfolds.

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