The capital city’s cultural groups – from its ballet companies and museums to a historical organization – are in line to get a bit more money from Richland County Council.
In the first of a series of votes, council on Thursday began doling out meal taxes and/or hotel room taxes for the 2017-2018 fiscal year to the City Ballet, the Classical Ballet, the downtown art and children’s museums, Historic Columbia Foundation and Columbia’s outdoor New Year’s Eve bash, among others.
The two ballet companies will split an extra $100,000, the city philharmonic will get $25,000 more than in the county administrator’s recommended budget. The Township concert auditorium will get about $370,000, if Thursday’s votes hold up through the county’s budget process.
Famously Hot New Year’s Eve will get $75,000 in taxes paid by patrons of county bar and restaurant patrons, otherwise known as meal taxes or hospitality taxes. The Columbia International Festival is to receive $176,000.
By The State newspaper’s deadline on Thursday, council had yet to take up any major budgets such as the general fund or money for school operations.
Final votes on the overall $852 million budget that takes effect July 1 is scheduled for June 8.
Also, council voted tentatively to give each of its 11 members almost $165,000 in meal tax income to spend on eligible projects in their individual districts.
But the bulk of Thursday’s discussion was directed at meal tax funding for the controversial Pinewood Lake Park in Lower Richland. Questions were raised last year about how park officials and its foundation have spent public money and whether the expenditures were properly documented.
In October, council voted to take operations of 44 acres of the park from the foundation and turn it over to the county’s Conservation Commission.
Councilman Norman Jackson, who represents parts of Lower Richland and is an outspoken advocate for the park, ignited an extended debate about whether the foundation should get $75,000 to promote the small portion of the park that Jackson said it owns. He said the foundation owns about 5 acres, including part of the lake itself as well as the weakened dam across the lake.
“My concern,” Jackson said, “is interrupted service ... so that this park is not on a track to get shut down.” That effectively could mean two parks on the sprawling, scenic property, with two budgets to promote its activities, others on council countered.
But others, led by Councilman Seth Rose, said the county should direct the $75,000 to the commission that council decided would take over operations starting July 1.
Jackson accused Rose of “an attempt to destroy an organization.”
After heated debate, council settled on a compromise proposed by Councilwoman Dalhi Myers to grant the foundation $75,000 to promote some park activities – but cut off the money at the end of the fiscal year in June 2018.
By a slim margin, council adopted the one-year funding proposal.