Berkeley County Council felt a little bit of the Christmas spirit in its final meeting of 2013 on Dec. 9, extending the holiday for employees by approving a resolution to close county offices on Dec. 26.
With Christmas falling on a Wednesday this year all Berkeley County will be closed on Tuesday, Dec. 24 and Wednesday, Dec. 25, which is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
“As everybody knows Tuesday and Wednesday are already designated as employee holidays,” said Purchasing and Human Resources Committee Chairman Dennis Fish. “The state's granting off Thursday and we're just extending the holiday to give them off Thursday to match the state.”
The resolution was unanimously approved.
County offices will be open for business on Monday, Dec. 23, and Friday, Dec. 27.
Berkeley County offices will also be closed on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014 for New Year's Day.
In other council business, the Finance Committee released approximately $95,000 to the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce for advertising and tourism promotions, and agreed to explore means to make Cypress Gardens more efficient so as to no longer need the .25 mils allocated to it from the accommodations tax money previously earmarked for the Chamber of Commerce.
Berkeley Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Morgan outlined the chamber's advertising and tourism campaign and expenses used to attract overnight visitors to Berkeley County.
“The majority of our expenditures lie in our magazine and our website,” Morgan said.
“We try to target our magazine, TV and Internet ads to where they can generate the most exposure. Ads are placed six months out to a year out as most people that book big group trips are planned 12-to-18 months out.”
Morgan added that 95 percent of all people that travel use Google.
“We have people looking at our website from every state,” she said.
All of the Chamber of Commerce money is generated from overnight stays in Berkeley County hotels.
“One of our biggest groups is our sports groups with children,” Morgan said. “The average size of a group is four people, children, parents and grandparents. That is our largest generator.”
Morgan said the accommodations tax is derived strictly overnight stays whereas the hospitality tax includes restaurants.
“We target our audience to groups that live at least 100 miles out, which is stipulated by the state. A tourist is defined as someone who lives at least a hundred miles out.”
Council member Caldwell Pinckney said he was concerned that the Chamber of Commerce would lose its advertising monies earmarked by the Accommodations Tax.
“You're only as good as your advertisement, and I'm just concerned that we have in this last budget, tapped up that money,” he said. “I'm afraid you are going to lose half of your money for advertising for Berkeley County.”
Council voted as part of the 2013-2014 money to reduce spending for Cypress Gardens by .25 mils and transfer that money to Trident Technical College.
Jack Schurlknight called the cuts bad business.
“Looking back, I think it was a very bad business decision by cutting the promotions budget. I would request that council entertain and revisit the Cypress Gardens budget and restore that .25 mil to the Cypress Gardens budget.”
Finance Committee Chairman Tim Callanan welcomed revisiting the Cypress Gardens budget and hoped this time County Council members would offer feedback via recommendations and suggestions as to how to make Cypress Gardens more efficient.
“The thing that frustrates me is that I would have loved to see some recommendations and suggestions during the budget process back in June,” Callanan said. “I saw nothing from anybody from council. We had more budget workshops, more budget meetings than we've had in years, at least the last five years. There were zero recommendations from anybody. I welcome County Council working to get Cypress Gardens more efficient.”
Council member Steve Davis presented a motion to address the Chamber of Commerce's need for funds now and challenged County Council to work together collectively to address the issue of Cypress Gardens efficiency.
Callanan recommended that council convene in January under a special meeting of the Finance Committee to revisit Cypress Gardens.
Schurlknight proposed the formation of a subcommittee to address the Cypress Gardens situation and volunteered to serve on the committee.
“We need to sit down and try to get Cypress Gardens as efficient as we can get them,” Schurlknight said.
Callanan agreed: “Then let's do it.”