By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Darlington County Accommodations Tax Committee met on Thursday, April 2 to decide on funding recommendations for the 2015/16 fiscal year. The previous week, the committee heard presentations from applicants requesting funding for their tourism-related events. The committee is responsible for dispersing a $60,000 funding pool to recipients whose venues and events increase local tourism and overnight hotel stays.
The accommodations tax (A-tax) pool comes from the state-mandated two-percent tax on hotel and motel stays, which is collected by the state and channeled back to counties and municipalities to increase tourism.
This year, Darlington County received 18 applications for funding, totaling $133,591.00. One request for $19,815 from Darlington County Tourism was later withdrawn.
Marty Driggers, chief organizer for Hartsville bluegrass festival RenoFest, told the committee that the three-day event continues to draw thousands of out-of-state tourists who regularly book up all local hotels during their stays. He provided a chart showing a spike in accommodations tax revenues each year during the festival, and requested $13,000 to continue aggressively promoting the event in national publications. The committee recommended a disbursement of $10,400.
Robert Leard, representing the South Carolina Junior Golf Tournament, told the committee that this Hartsville-based event continues to draw 120 junior golfers and their families to stay in area hotels. Leard noted that competition this year will likely be fierce, as the Hartsville event is now a qualifier for a year-end championship in Myrtle Beach. The tournament officially requested$10,000 to support the event, and the committee recommended $7,500.
Terry Reems of the YMCA of the Upper Pee Dee said that organization would use all A-tax funding for advertising to attract out of town participants to the Y’s six main events, including a triathlon, the popular Turkey Trot, the Lickety Split summer run/walk race, the Loop da Ville bike race, and three annual swim meets. Reems requested $5,000 in accommodations tax money, and the committee recommended funding of $3,200.
Darlington city planner and DDRA director Lisa Chalian-Rock had requested $1,200 to help promote Market on Darlington Square, the farmer’s market-style bazaars that regularly bring over 40 vendors, live music, and themed events to the Public Square. Coming up, the Market will feature a May gardening expo, a June pet parade, a fire truck exploration (aimed at youngsters) in August, and a racing-themed sidewalk chalk art contest on September 5 – just in time for the Southern 500 – and an October chili cook-off.
Chalian-Rock also asked for $2,500 to increase media buys to promote next year’s Taste of Darlington, scheduled this year for April 16 from 7 to 9 pm at the Darlington Raceway garage area. The committee recommended $900 for the Market on The Square and $2,000 for the Taste of Darlington.
Hannah Stanley, executive director of the Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce, had requested $3,000 to promote Freedom Fest, an all-day July 4 celebration held at the Darlington Raceway. The free event will feature live music, food vendors, games for the kids, and a massive fireworks show. Stanley said organizers were not prepared for the over 14,000 people who turned out last year for the inaugural event, but this year she expects perhaps 30,000 people to visit the track and enjoy the festivities. Stanley noted that since Freedom Fest won’t wrap up until after 10 pm, lots of guests will likely turn their trip into an overnight stay, meaning more heads in Darlington County hotel beds. The committee recommended $2,300 for this event.
Audrey Robinson had requested $29,000 on behalf of Wilhelmina Johnson’s Cultural Realism Complex (CRC) to support community events and cultural preservation efforts. Last year, Darlington County Council rejected the A-tax committee’s recommendation and denied the CRC any funding, citing Johnson’s position on county council as a conflict of interest. This year, the committee recommended $3,700 for the CRC.
Jennie Peze had requested $5,000 to promote the Eastern SC Heritage Region, which includes sites of historical note in Darlington County. These include the Hartsville Museum and Sculpture Garden, Reese’s Row in Darlington’s West Broad Street Historic District, and the St. John’s Historic District. The committee recommended $3,000 for this applicant.
Maryann Mack had presented a request for $3,500 to promote the Lamar Egg Scramble Jamboree, the street festival that regularly pulls over 30,000 people into town for food, rides, games, and a jam-packed bill of live music. Based on random sampling of last year’s crowd, Mack estimated that about 50-percent of Jamboree guests are visiting from over 50 miles away. The committee recommended $3,000, and several members remarked that organizers should have asked for more money.
Lee Andrews of Darlington Area Parks and Recreation had requested $1,000 to help fund the revived Southern 500 Parade, tentatively scheduled for Sep. 5 at 7 pm. The committee recommended a disbursement of $1,000 to assist with promotions and advertising.
The committee also made the following recommendations:
• $5,800 for the Hartsville Community Center Building Commission (Center Theater), which had requested $9,246;
• $3,500 for the Sep. 3 Darlington Car Hauler Parade, which had requested $5,000;
• $3,200 for the Sweet Potato Festival, which had requested $4,000;
• $3,000 for the Society Hill Catfish Festival, which had requested $3,000;
• $3,800 for Gospel in the Park (staged by the SC African American Heritage Foundation) and a historical marker in Mont Clare honoring Sen. Kay Patterson, from a request for $7,750;
• $1,600 for the Hartsville Genealogical Research Library, which had requested $3,000;
• $2,100 for the Community Rice Festival held by New Vision Community Development, which had requested $8,580.
These recommendations from the Darlington County Accommodations Tax Committee will be reviewed by Darlington County Council, which could alter the disbursement amounts before granting final approval. Council should vote on the A-tax recommendations at their May 4 meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Courthouse Annex located at 1625 Harry Byrd Hwy in Darlington.