After Monday night’s (August 17) Lexington Town Council meeting at which the proposed hospitality tax (H Tax) was discussed, I overheard two council members talking about Councilman Ted Stambolitis’ public statements and how they differed from those he shared with the other members. This sharing was done via email and I asked if the correspondence was sent to council’s official email address(@lexsc.com). If so, this would make it publicly available via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Pay attention Hillary!
It was sent to some of the council members at their town email addresses and was subsequently provided to me as it was considered public record.
The email can be viewed by clicking on the image at right. For some reason the text the email has a date of February 18, the time stamp is the 18th of May.
In the email sent to all members of the Council and the Town Administrator, Mr. Britt Poole, Councilman Stambolitis states that he is “not opposed to the spirit of the (H Tax)” and would like the Council to address “some items and issues.” He then goes on to note those items/issues as:
- Take time and create a proposal that will do the greatest good. Which road improvements will have the best impact.
- Identify which roads to construct or improve, Hire an independent traffic engineering firm do a traffic impact study.
- Once areas have been identified, obtain actual construction costs and any other costs related to those improvements and create a pro-forma/proposal-itemizing all costs.
These are reasonable points Councilman Stambolitis has made consistently since the H Tax proposal was publicly announced. It can also be argued that most of these suggestions have been met. However, one of the Councilman’s recommendations is hardly in line with what he is now saying.
Councilman Stambolitis also wrote in his email that he wanted to “create a formula of use of the monies.” That “formula” is:
- 80% be used for road construction/improvements
- 10% be used for logistical help; Town Police, administration, parks & recreation and etc.
- 10% be used for tourism related projects. This money should be administered by a Hospitality Tax committee consisting of members from that industry just as the accommodations tax committee is working.
Councilman Stambolitis wants to spend 20% of the funds accumulated by the H Tax – a tax to which he “is not opposed” – and spend it for things other than roadway construction.
Why is this significant?
First, Councilman Stambolitis has not made his non-opposition to “the spirit” of the H Tax public. If he has changed his mind, that’s fine, but why be secretive about it?
Second, it shows the Councilman’s lack of familiarity or understanding of the laws related to the establishment of a hospitality tax. As other council members have explained repeatedly and as has been pointed out here and here on Lake and Main, the tax must go to road construction/improvements that lead to, relate to or otherwise improve access to recreational sites and facilities. The three intersections meet that criteria (as approved by SCDOT) for accesses to Lake Murray, the Riverbanks Botanical Gardens, Lexington Museum, the Lexington Farmer’s Market, the proposed Ice House Project and the Saluda River. What the money cannot be spent on are such things as “town police, administration, parks & recreation and tourism related projects.“
Third, Councilman Stambolitis wants the town to devote 20% – about $3.2 million – on unspecified town police, administration, parks, recreation and tourism-related projects. This idea to spend only 80% of the accumulated funds for construction and not the entire 100% – promoted by everyone else on the Council – is the same fiscal sleight of hand that rightly doomed last year’s county referendum on a 1% sales tax. The Councilman’s anti-tax friends should love this!
Further, he wants 10% of the whole, over $1.5 million to be “administered by a Hospitality Tax committee consisting of members from that industry” an industry of which Councilman Stambolitis, as a restaurateur, is one. That is, the councilman wants to put $1.5 million in the hands of his restaurant colleagues to decide where that money is to be spent. Not the citizens and not the Town Council, but restaurant owners.
(The accommodations tax to which he references garners the town only about $100,000 a year or 6% of the amount he wants from the H Tax).
Finally, the Town Council wants to limit the H Tax to an eight year lifespan, expiring on 31 December 2023. Under Councilman Stambolitis’ 80% solution, in order to raise the funds necessary for the proposed roadwork, that expiration would delay completion of the project at least another year and a half. That means, of course, 18+ months more tax.
As has been said before, no one wants more taxes and the Town Council doesn’t want to initiate more taxes. But a solution must be found and a decision must be made. It appears to Lake and Main that the Lexington Town Council – except for Mr. Stambolitis – has made an honest assessment and a difficult and unfortunate decision. Waiting will solve nothing.
And 80% of what the Council is trying to do isn’t good enough for Lexington.