All the items on the agenda are important, but some are more controversial. Here's where I'll give you my thoughts, and try to dissect the tough questions. It's important to remember that nothing I write here can lock me into voting a certain way. New information is often presented at Committee or Council meetings, or an argument can be made by another Councilman or citizen that changes my mind.
Funding the Heritage Golf Tournament
Councilman Stu Rodman is working on a plan to give $1,000,000 over the next five years from the County's Hospitality Tax Fund to help secure the PGA event that is so important to the economic health of Beaufort County. His plan depends on support from the Town of Hilton Head, and the State of South Carolina. Unlike property taxes, business license fees and other general revenue sources, Hospitality Taxes are collected from restaurants, bars and other hospitality industry businesses to help bring more visitors to Beaufort County. There are legal limits to how we can spend this revenue, but the short version is that it is only a small portion can be converted to "General" revenue. We have been building this fund for several years with the intention of spending it on a big project, to be determined later, such as a Convention Center or Sports Arena.
I have several problems with the current Agenda item. First, the Council is not being given any specific information. We are being asked to vote on this matter, "By Title Only" so that third and final reading can be reached simultaneously with corresponding approval by the Town and State, in order to meet PGA deadlines. While that parliamentary procedure is not completely unheard of, I have complained of it in the past. I believe the issues regarding Heritage funding have been unchanged for more than a year, and there has been no effort to reach the current agreement until now, the last possible moment. Even if the Councilman Rodman receives an agreeable commitment from the other interested parties, we wouldn't receive an agreement or contract we could read until just a few days before our final opportunity to vote. Those of us who are conservative Republicans voiced our displeasure when the Democrats in Congress voted in favor of President Obama's Healthcare bill without reading it closely. Now, County Council is being asked to do substantially the same thing. We will not have any opportunity to discuss the details of an agreement in committee, or with our constituents and trusted advisors.
Secondly, the current chain of events is eerily similar to last year's events, where we were asked to give $1.000.000 to the Heritage. Last year, it was truly an emergency, and all indications were that a commercial sponsor commitment was soon to be announced. Because of the last minute nature, the note that was finally agreed upon was not given sufficient consideration, which now puts Beaufort County in an precarious position: do we ask for repayment of the money as a loan, which the Heritage group can ill afford, or do we convert it to advertising time which will be underutilized?
Third, I'm unconvinced that Beaufort County is the appropriate jurisdiction to solicit $1,000,000 from. A Clemson study, provided by the Heritage group, shows an economic impact of $82,000,000 from the Heritage. I suspect that the vast majority of this is spent on Hilton Head, or even as far as the Town of Bluffton, both of whom have their own Hospitality Tax fund that's separate from the County's. If the County's Hospitality Tax collection resulting from the Heritage is less than the Town of Bluffton's, why aren't they being asked to participate at the same level as Beaufort County? Further, I'm confused by the Heritage group's request to Beaufort County. A detailed search of their website reveals only one mention of Beaufort County, on their "Facts and Figures" page, "61% of Heritage spectators are from outside Beaufort County." Nor is Beaufort County listed as a sponsor of this years Heritage. It seems they've tried quite hard to distance themselves from Beaufort County.
And finally: I am unconvinced of the Heritage's viability as a PGA tournament. Marketing professionals from dozens of large corporations have researched the Heritage as a potential marketing opportunity, and it's come up short. I'm not a marketing professional....maybe that's why they're asking me.
I voted against this proposal in the Finance Committee, and on first reading at Council on March 28, 2011. At this point, barring new information or developments, I intend to continue my opposition.