Wednesday, June 12, 2013
If Goose Creek citizens must pay a hospitality tax, then revenue from such a tax should stay within city limits.
That was the rationale expressed by Goose Creek City Council members, who voted to pass a first reading of a 2 percent hospitality tax on the sale of prepared foods and beverages during a special meeting on June 6 at the municipal center.
According to city council members, the vote was in response to actions taken by Berkeley County Council: On May 27, county council passed the first of three readings for an ordinance that would implement a 1 percent hospitality tax for the unincorporated parts of the county and municipalities that do not yet have a hospitality tax, i.e. Goose Creek. (Towns that already have a maximum 2 percent hospitality tax, such as Moncks Corner and Summerville, would be exempt from a county tax).
On Monday evening, however, county council denied the motion on its hospitality tax, effectively killing the measure.
That action left the city’s hospitality tax plans unclear. A second reading of the tax was tentatively scheduled for Thursday.
If the county had passed its hospitality tax before Goose Creek, the county would have been able to collect 1 percent of all hospitality tax within Goose Creek city limits, which means the city would only be able to collect at most 1 percent if it passed a hospitality tax in the future.
Before the county tabled its hospitality tax, Goose Creek Mayor Michael Heitzler and his fellow councilmembers said they felt the county was trying to supersede the city and take half of its hospitality tax.
County council members say this is not true and that the county passed the first reading of its hospitality tax to stop Goose Creek from initiating its own such tax, and that county council never planned for its tax to be passed into law.
The issue has been on the city’s radar for several weeks. At the regularly scheduled May 14 city council meeting there was a public hearing during which the hospitality tax was tabled until the city could give a more accurate picture on exactly how the money would be spent.
After county council’s actions, however, Heitzler said he called for a special meeting for the greater good of the people of Goose Creek. He said the county’s 1 percent would be paid by Goose Creek, but that revenue would not stay in Goose Creek. But if the city passed its ordinance first it would be able to collect the full 2 percent and ensure all would be spent within Goose Creek city limits.
“County council did not talk to us … I hope you would call your county councilmember and ask them,” Heitzler said to the three citizens in attendance, who were all opposed to the hospitality tax.
“The county forced our hand,” Mayor pro-tem Kimo Esarey said.
Councilmember Jerry Tekac was the sole person to vote against the ordinance. Councilmember Marguerite Brown was not present because she was out of town.
“I support the tax to an extent,” Tekac said. “But we have to have an idea of what the money is going to. We don’t want to hand out a blank check ... I want to make sure we do it right and not rushed.”
Esarey said there would be a workshop before any money is collected.
“I think it’s going to be months of preparation,” Heitzler said. “We need to prepare our public . . . it’s going to be more than a hurried workshop. We need to turn it into a law so we’re not preempted by county council.”
“We don’t have to implement it right away,” Esarey said. “This stops the county from implementing it at their will. I’m not willing to give that percentage to Berkeley County.”
In the current draft of the ordinance, the tax would go into effect Oct. 1.
“The county saw we withdrew something so they put it on their agenda,” Tekac said. “They’re not being good neighbors. I don’t trust them. If we do have that leverage we need to take it.”
City council would need to wait seven days for a second and final reading, which would be June 13 at the earliest, according to Heitzler.
Councilmember Franklin Moore, who addressed the issue in The Gazette’s Opinion page in today’s newspaper, said there would be ample opportunity for public comments at the June 11 meeting.