Camden wins ruling on use of tourist taxes

dhinshaw@thestate.comOctober 22, 2013 

— A court ruling gives the city of Camden the latitude to use tourist taxes on a recreation center that benefits local residents, too.

The long-awaited decision by Circuit Judge Alison Lee revolved around the issue of whether the planned construction of a $6.2 million gym and wellness center – with space for a later pool, athletic fields and tennis courts – could be financed by using the city’s tax on restaurant meals.

The Camden Committee for Responsible Government argued the downtown center, to be operated by the YMCA, was a boondoggle that wouldn’t attract tourists when there were other projects that would bring in visitors.

Lee said state laws defining both “tourists” and “tourism-related” projects are plain.

Furthermore, her ruling said: “There is no language accompanying the term to indicate that the use of the recreational facility, in order to be ‘tourism-related,’ must be solely tourism-related, primarily tourism-related, substantially tourism-related, or tourism-related to any certain percentage of use.”

If the General Assembly had wanted to place such limits in the use of the tourist tax, Lee added, it could have.

Danny Crowe, an expert on local government who served as the city’s lawyer, said the ruling will be helpful to cities and counties across South Carolina. “This gives cities and counties some judicial guidance ... in spending hospitality-tax revenues,” he said.

Resident Herbert Farber said his Camden Committee for Responsible Government lost that battle but won the war, since the City Council scuttled the project.

“It hasn’t been built. Won’t be built,” Farber said. “Our objective has been met.”

He said his group will not appeal the ruling, dated Oct. 18.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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