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Several years ago Lancaster City Council voted to implement a hospitality tax in the city of Lancaster. The hospitality tax is a 2 percent tax levied on all food, beverage and alcohol sales in bars, restaurants and other establishments in the city limits. The money is to be used to promote local tourism.
The hospitality tax money has helped fund and bring various events and entertainment to Lancaster. In the past, organizations have made requests for funding to a committee that met once or twice a year to review and recommend grant applications. While some submitted applications to the committee others made their requests directly to City Council.
Recently, City Council voted to set up a more organized way to handle requests. Council voted 6-1 to have all grant applications for the hospitality tax funding go through a special committee. The committee will make funding recommendations to City Council.
Council member Linda Blackmon-Brace voted against the new procedure. Blackmon-Brace did not agree with the finance committee making the recommendation to City Council for the special committee. Also, Blackmon-Brace doesn’t agree with the special committee deciding which projects to recommend to council for funding. She thinks council should be a part of the initial discussion about grant requests.
Having committees and subcommittees is a standard practice in government. It is done in national, state and local levels. Committees do much of the due diligence before sending requests, bills, etc. to the House, Senate or local councils.
The special hospitality tax committee verifies the requests meet the criteria for the funding. That is sometimes an issue. The hospitality tax fund must be kept in a separate tax. It can only be used for tourism-related projects, including building repairs, construction, beautification, infrastructure repair and promotion. The projects are not limited to within the city limits, but must be within Lancaster County.
The hospitality tax committee is comprised of seven volunteers, who represent a cross-section of the community. They are Kenny Harrison, Donald Hunter, Gwen Hinson, Ed Khoury, Harold T. Outen, Thelathia Barnes-Bailey and Amy Thompson. They are appointed and serve three-year terms.
The committee members have the task of determining if the requests meet the criteria set for funding. Sometimes that interpretation of what constitutes tourism-promotion varies from one individual to another. There was one request for new signs to the Indian Land community. How does a new sign for a community promote tourism or bring tourists to the county? These are the issues the committee will have to consider.
Council will, of course, have final say whether to grant the requests. We think council has established a more organized procedure to review application requests and for granting the hospitality tax funding. In the past there was no such procedure.
We want to see successful events that encourage folks to come and visit our county that is rich in history, culture and art. And we’ve entrusted City Council and the hospitality tax committee to make sure the hospitality tax money is used to do just that.