Surfside Beach's accommodation tax advisory committee held their regular yearly meeting last week where they looked over requests for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
The statutory committee that met last Thursday is comprised of volunteers and makes recommendations to the town council on how revenue generated by the tax should be used.
Tourists sleeping in our hotels, campgrounds and resorts pay the tax. The state passed the law designed to keep locals from paying for services a large concentration of tourists need. The state collects the money, keeps a slice for itself and then distributes it back to the counties and cities with a large number of tourists.
When the state gives the money, it comes with rules from the law on how it can be spent. The law specifies it can be spent on tourism-related expenses. Those expenses include law enforcement, fire protection, public facilities, beach renourishment, street and highway maintenance, solid waste collection, parks, parking lots, tourist shuttles, advertisement to promote tourism and facilities for civic and cultural events.
The town garnered over $700,000 in revenue from the accommodations tax during the 2018-2019 fiscal year, records show.
The police department is asking for $201,500 to fund one-and-a-half police officer salaries and benefits ($91,400), bike week security proviso expenses ($50,000), beach-related overtime ($25,100) beach patrol operating expenses, fuel, uniforms and supplies ($25,000) and a camera for the Surfside Beach pier area for surveillance ($10,000.) The board is recommending the council authorize use of the funds for those purposes.
The committee is also recommending that the public works department be able to use $46,650 for beach trash pickup ($22,900), beach raking ($10,650) and beach restroom maintenance ($12,100).
In addition, $53,500 was recommended to be used for special events and advertising and promotion. The breakdown is $34,500 for "tourism-related events" (the town’s barbecue festival, easter festival for children, Living History Day and Fourth of July celebration), $10,000 for promotion and advertising and $9,000 for staffing for the special events.
The committee is suggesting approval of $125,000 for pier reconstruction. The fishing pier was decimated because of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and the plan is to tear it down and replace it with a sturdier one. The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to grant nearly $10 million for the project but officials said that money cannot be used to reconstruct the two buildings on the pier (the diner and shop) that must be torn down because the new pier must be about 10 feet higher to protect against storm surge. Town leaders decided the new, concrete pier will have three buildings.
Also, the board is advocating $12,000 be approved for additional advertising, web and social media expenses.
The committee is proposing $7,500 be granted to Champion Autism Network. Surfside Beach has been touted as the world’s first autism-friendly travel destination and the nonprofit’s executive director Becky Large said the money can be used to promote and advertise the municipality as such and attract tourist families. She highlighted the town being featured on a segment in the BBC documentary “Richard and Jaco Take on the World” that was praised by Town Administrator Dennis Pieper. Committee member Gary Livesay complimented the group’s website.
Additionally, $5,000 was recommended to be used for historical markers. Diana King, the town’s finance director, said Surfside Beach expects to receive one marker this year and another in 2021.
The committee also recommended two proposals that would use leftover funds and amend the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget. The committee is endorsing the use of $74,000 to replace the restrooms at 3rd Avenue North and $10,000 to replace a utility vehicle used on the beach.
The town council will ultimately decide how the tax money is spent.