County looks at visitors tax

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By Jenny Hartley

Hotel and motel visitors in Lancaster County may get charged an extra 3 percent for their stay.

Lancaster County Council on Monday passed the first of three readings of an ordinance to charge an accommodations tax to hotel and motel visitors.

If given final approval, the tax will be kept in a special, separate fund, and will be used for marketing, promotions and tourism purposes, according to state law. The tax is similar to the hospitality tax the city of Lancaster charges at restaurants.

Bed and breakfast establishments are exempt from the tax, County Administrator Steve Willis said. Those staying in Lancaster County for longer than a few days, such as construction workers staying here until a project is finished, could also be exempt from the tax.

The municipalities in the county may charge 1.5 to 3 percent accommodations tax if they choose.

Council passed first reading 5-2, with Councilmen Bryan Vaughn and Wayne Kersey voting against it.

"I believe in raising taxes when it's needed and we've done plenty of that the past few years," Kersey said. "I don't see a need for this."

Vaughn agreed with Kersey. He said the tax could send visitors outside the county to stay.

"I don't think they're going to spend their money here because there's nowhere to spend their money here," Vaughn said.

Councilman Fred Thomas pointed out that other many areas charge an accommodation tax.

He asked other council members if they remembered what the accommodations tax was at the last place they visited.

"In essence, this is our way of getting our money back," he said.

Building ordinance passes

Council passed first reading – again – of an ordinance that would mandate the appearance of commercial building exteriors in the Panhandle. The ordinance would not allow metal, vinyl or cinder-block building exteriors on parts of a building that can be seen from a road.

Council quibbled over the ordinance and requested changes to it for a year and finally voted on final reading of it earlier this year. But that vote was thrown out because in the meantime, Councilman Larry Honeycutt was voted on council and had not voted on the prior two readings.

Council decided to start the process over.

Planning Director Chris Karres said the county Planning Commission recommended approval of the ordinance, but suggested that it apply to the entire county, not just the Indian Land area. The commission also suggested that all sides of the building be made of brick, stone or stucco, not just the sides visible from a road.

"Someone doesn't want this passed," Thomas said, responding to Karres.

Kersey, echoing his sentiments in past votes on the ordinance, called the ordinance anti-business and questioned the intelligence of council and the planning commission for approving it.

Council decided to approve the original proposal – to apply the ordinance only to properties with road frontage on S.C. 160 and U.S. 521 north of S.C. 75, and only to visible sides of the building.

The vote was close – 4-3, with Councilmen Wesley Grier, Jack Estridge and Kersey voting against it. Thomas, Vaughn, Honeycutt and Council Chairman Rudy Carter voted in favor of it.

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