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Saluda joins new Polk County TDA

SALUDA — The City of Saluda has decided to join Polk County’s new Tourism Development Authority.

Saluda City Council met Monday and unanimously approved an interlocal agreement and bylaws to join the TDA. The approval is contingent on Tryon and the county approving the same documents, and state legislation approving the new TDA.

The Town of Columbus has opted not to join the county TDA at this time.

For Saluda, joining the new TDA will mean the city will receive 83.33 percent of its occupancy tax from the county.

Saluda City Attorney Jana Berg said the city’s occupancy tax will be placed in a grant fund specifically earmarked for Saluda.

The county is seeking special legislation to be able to collect 6 percent of occupancy tax throughout the county, in all but the town limits of Columbus. Currently, the county collects 3 percent of occupancy tax throughout the county, and the towns collect 3 percent.

By joining the TDA, the towns will receive 5 percent of their occupancy tax instead of the current 3 percent. Saluda just recently got approved by the legislation to collect its 3 percent, so, by joining the county TDA, Saluda will not have to create a board or administer collecting the tax.

Saluda City Manager Jonathan Cannon said he met with the county manager and Tryon town manager, and had concerns about Saluda submitting a request for funding to the TDA and the board denying the request.

Cannon said that portion of the interlocal agreement was changed so that the TDA is required to give the towns the money they request, as long as it meets the requirements and there are sufficient funds.

Another part of the interlocal agreement includes that each towns funds rollover from year to year.

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden said the county is going to do the administration for the 1 percent of occupancy tax it collects.

“Otherwise, we’re getting 3 percent and have to administer it,” Baisden said.

Cannon said the city is looking at likely less than $20,000 a year in occupancy tax.

Baisden said this is “big bucks” for the county.

“Outside of the city limits of Saluda [in all unincorporated areas of the county], it allows them to collect 6 percent and not just 3,” Baisden said. “I look at it as a benefit to us, and a benefit to our county, as well.”

Cannon said the county believes the new legislation can pass this July.

Berg said there have been hotels and more building in the county, particularly at the Tryon International Equestrian Center and county officials have discussed collaborative efforts such as marketing Polk County as a whole package, including Saluda and Tryon from county funds.

Polk’s new TDA will include six members, including three members from Polk County, one member from Saluda and one member from Tryon, if Tryon opts to join the TDA. Another member will be the executive director of the TDA, which will be an ex officio, nonvoting member.

The board members for Saluda and Tryon do not have to live in the city limits, according to Berg.

Berg said the only time Saluda’s money can be dispersed by the TDA is for requests from the City of Saluda.

Saluda commissioner Mark Oxtoby add that the city could also apply for county TDA money, which Berg answered, “yes.”

“I think we get a really good benefit from this,” Cannon said. “It’s far better than we would get if we did it ourselves.”

The Town of Columbus opted out of joining the new county TDA last year. Berg said Columbus has a special legislation that allows Columbus to use their occupancy tax in a broad manner, not specifically for travel and tourism purposes.

If legislation is approved, the county TDA will collect 6 percent of occupancy tax throughout the entire county, excluding the town limits of Columbus. The TDA will then place 5 percent of Tryon’s and Saluda’s occupancy tax in special grant funding, to be dispersed to each town.