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Polk asks towns to give answer on TDA by Oct. 1

COLUMBUS – Polk County has given the Towns of Columbus and Tryon and City of Saluda until Oct. 1 to say whether they want to join the county’s Tourism Development Authority (TDA).

County commissioners met Aug. 21 and discussed the TDA, which will give the county the opportunity to collect six percent in occupancy tax in the unincorporated areas of the county instead of the current three percent.

The county is offering to give the towns up to five percent of their own occupancy tax if they join the county’s TDA. The towns currently collect three percent (Saluda is pending state approval) and the county also collects three percent in the three towns.

County manager Marche Pittman told commissioners he reached out to the towns and had conversations with each manager and he communicated to them that the county would like information back by Oct. 1 to either join or if they don’t join, if that town would send a letter of support for the county.

The county will have to petition the state for a local bill to collect more occupancy tax in the unincorporated areas of the county and to form a TDA.

Pittman said in order for the towns to rescind their ordinances to allow the county’s TDA to collect six percent across the entire county, the county is going to have to entice the towns, which is why the county is discussing giving the towns two more percent than they are currently collecting.

“I think that’s something that encourages them and makes them want to be a part of it,” Pittman said.

Commissioner Myron Yoder asked how the towns would gain that extra two percent.

Pittman said essentially, the county is saying the towns currently collect three percent from vacation rentals in their towns and the county currently collects three percent occupancy tax in the towns. With a joint TDA, the county would give the towns two percent of their current three percent.

“Otherwise, there would be no reason for them (the towns) to come in,” Pittman said.

Yoder said the county would take care of all the collections with a joint TDA, so the towns would gain there as well by not having to pay someone to collect the tax.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said the sense he gets from the town councils is that the county would be running this. Gasperson said it will be the TDA that will be running the occupancy tax.

“If the municipalities decide to cooperate with the county,” Gasperson said, “obviously you would have representation from all three municipalities on the board.”

Gasperson said that is the misperception he sees going on. The county will simply make sure the money is accounted for, said Gasperson. He also said there will be an audit so everything will be shown and be transparent.

Pittman said there are different models the county can take to achieve a TDA. He said there is an inter-local agreement option where the county can just pass money to the towns and the towns can create their own tourism boards to decide how to spend the money if they wish.

Gasperson said he would like to see a joint meeting with the county and the three towns. Gasperson also said the towns are about to have elections and asked how soon the county needs to be getting things in place.

County attorney Jana Berg said the next legislation session is sometime in the spring.

Gasperson said with the spring, the county is not on a hard deadline between now and the end of the year at least. He suggested a work session and said he hopes the towns would at least be interested in sitting down to discuss the idea.

Pittman said a work session would be good for the towns that want to participate. He suggested getting the county and towns together after the Oct. 1 deadline so the county knows which towns are interested.

Pittman said he will let commissioners know what kind of feedback he gets from the towns.

Commissioner Shane Bradley said he’s still not 100 percent that all the work the county is putting into this is going to be worth it.

Commissioner chairman Tommy Melton said the utopia would be that all towns would join.

“I believe it will benefit the entire county,” Melton said.

Yoder added that the people of Polk County don’t pay that tax. Occupancy tax is paid by people who are coming in and staying in the county.