County Council adds ‘teeth’ to A-tax law

Property owners in Georgetown County who rent to tourists will soon be penalized if they fail to pay a three-percent accommodations tax.

County Council passed second reading of an ordinance that complies with the “Fairness in Lodging Act” adopted by the S.C. Legislature in June.

The county ordinance, final reading of which will be on Oct. 14, creates additional enforcement provisions for the

Georgetown County local accommodations tax and the application of the tax to the owners of residential real property who rent their property to tourists.

This does not apply to month-to-month leases, according to Wesley Bryant, county attorney.

Notices of past due accommodations tax will be included with property tax bills, which will be mailed out in October, he stated.

If property owners fail to pay the amount on the notice, he or she will be fined $500 per week that the property was rented, and that amount, with added fees, will be added to the property tax bill the following year, Bryant said.

If the property owner still does not pay, the property can be sold the following tax year.

Bryant said this ordinance gives property owners incentive to pay the accommodations tax instead of the stiff penalty.

“It is much easier to pay the tax than to have the penalty tacked on to their property tax bill,” he said.

He said if the property rents for $2,000 per week, the tax would be $60, as opposed to a $500 penalty for not paying the tax.

Bryant explained that in May 1999 Georgetown County imposed a 3 percent accommodations tax for unincorporated parts of the county.

“If people rent a house, a hotel room, a condominium or apartment they are responsible for paying that three percent to the county,” Bryant said.

“It is a self-reporting system.”

He said this new county ordinance provides a mechanism for the county to penalize and force the collection of those owners who are in non-compliance or do not know about the tax.

He said real estate companies were the main catalyst for the state and county laws since they pay the tax in compliance with the law and anyone who doesn’t comply has an unfair advantage.

Bryant explained that some people rent through websites without using a real estate agent.

“We are not saying that all of those people are not paying the accommodations tax, but a large number using those types of services do not remit them,” Bryant said.

The Fairness in Lodging Act, which the S.C. General Assembly passed in June, was adopted in part to grant local governments more authority to enforce tax requirements in regards to rental property used by tourists.

The act gives counties the assistance of the S.C. Department of Revenue in data sharing and additional recourse in the enforcement of accommodations tax laws.

It provides specific notice to property owners to be included in property tax bills; providing an additional civil penalty be imposed for noncompliance after receiving notice of this ordinance; and providing for the method of collection of the penalty.

Other business

• Council appointed Helen Benso to fill a seat on the Tourism Management Commission Board.

They also reappointed the following TMC members: Bob Seganti, David McMillan, David Teems, Drew Streett, Matt Giltmier and Will Dieter.

County Council’s action to appoint Benso and reappoint those currently serving on the TMC will extend the term of all Tourism Management Commission members to Dec. 31, 2015.

• Council adopted a resolution that expresses concerns regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed C02 Existing Source Rule and the overall affects on South Carolina.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway explained that the EPA recently released a proposed C02 emissions rule that requires a 51 percent reduction in South Carolina’s C02 emissions by 2030, based on 2012 levels – the third largest reduction among all of the states.

The proposed federal regulation could significantly increase the utility rate paid by every South Carolinian on a statewide basis, he said. These rate increases will affect all residential, commercial, and industrial customers.

“Considering electricity is one of the largest costs for industry, this could threaten our state’s continued ability to recruit and retain industry that sustains our economy,” Hemingway stated.

“Santee Cooper is South Carolina’s state-owned electric and water utility and the state’s largest producer, supplying electricity that powers more that two million South Carolinians in all 46 counties of the state.”

Several years ago, Santee Cooper began planning for strategic reduction of C02 emissions by taking a measured approach, one that balances environmental stewardship, reliability and costs, he said.

“Since 2005, Santee Cooper has reduced its C02 emissions by 23 percent,” Hemingway commented.

Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric and Gas are currently building two of the first nuclear units in the country.

The proposed EPA rule considers these units under construction units as already built, and in doing so sets South Carolina’s goal more restrictively than other states, he explained.

“This penalizes South Carolina for being productive in its C02 reductions and investing early in a non-carbon emitting project.”

• Council passed first reading of an ordinance to authorize the lease of 901-909 Front Street in the City of Georgetown to Coastal Carolina University.

The ordinance will authorize Georgetown County to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding and a

Property Lease Agreement for the property.

The agreement is for eight years and subject to terms as outlined within the Memorandum of Understanding and the lease document.

Currently CCU occupies a portion of the property.

The county plans to purchase the property from the owners, Pecan Partners, LLC and lease the property to CCU.

The county has a line item on its budget for payment to Pecan Partners, LLC $1.25 million through a conduit known as the Georgetown County Higher Education Advisory Committee.

CCU will remit payment in the amount of $147,000 per year until 2022, according to the Memorandum of Agreement.