Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Berkeley County Council and Goose Creek were locked in a war of words last week concerning a hospitality tax.
Berkeley County Council Finance Committee Chairman Tim Callanan did not mince words when it came to Goose Creek City Council approving the first reading of a hospitality tax for the city that city council members said was in response to the county’s plans to issue a similar tax.
“For Goose Creek to vote to increase taxes and then point the finger at county council, I find this insulting,” Callanan said during County Council’s Finance Committee meeting on June 10.
Goose Creek City Council approved an ordinance in first reading during a special council meeting convened the previous week.
According to city council members, the vote was in response to actions taken by county council: on May 27, county council passed the first of three readings for an ordinance that would implement a 1 percent hospitality tax for the unincorporated parts of the county and municipalities that do not yet have a hospitality tax, i.e. Goose Creek. (Towns that already have a maximum 2 percent hospitality tax, such as Moncks Corner and Summerville, would be exempt from a county tax).
On Monday evening, however, county council denied the motion on its hospitality tax, effectively killing the measure. That action left the city’s hospitality tax plans unclear.
According to county council members, the county never intended to pass the hospitality tax beyond its second reading. Callanan said the ordinance was meant to stop Goose Creek from raising taxes in the form of a two-percent sales tax on prepared food and beverages.
Callanan was emphatic in his objection to any tax designed to dip into the billfolds of county consumers.
“We never intended to let this ordinance go beyond a second reading,” he said. “My goal was to get it to second reading and have it sit there like a loaded gun and hopefully that would be enough to prevent Goose Creek from implementing their tax.”
But Goose Creek passed its first reading last week by a 5-1 vote. The move forced county council’s hand.
At last week’s meeting, county council member Phil Farley moved to deny the ordinance and the vote was unanimous.
Callanan said that if Goose Creek continues with a second reading, it would be voting on a tax increase. “If Goose Creek votes on this and approves it they cannot use county council as a cover,” Callanan said.
County council requires three readings for a law to pass while Goose Creek City Council requires two.
After county council’s actions, it was unclear whether Goose Creek would proceed with a second reading of its own hospitality tax.
Goose Creek Chick Fil-A owner Chris Walker addressed county council, voicing his objection to the hospitality tax.
“This is real money that our customers pay,” he said. “As a local business owner I hope the county and the city stands against anything that will cost the taxpayer more money.”
Council member Dennis Fish, a small business owner said Goose Creek City Council was encroaching on dangerous territory.
“It is so easy to tax businesses,” he said. “I am adamantly, adamantly opposed to this. We cannot pass this on to your clients or your customers. It will drive you out of business.”