Originally created 08/21/05

First hotel tax funds are distributed



The list of tourism-promoting groups to receive Aiken County's first round of hotel tax revenues has been approved.

After weeks of political wrangling among Aiken County Council members, the body voted 5-2-2 on Tuesday on a list of groups that will receive $272,000 generated from the county's 3 percent hotel tax.

The towns of Wagener, Salley, Jackson and Perry all received less than $10,000 each.

The Aiken Center for the Arts will get $33,750 and organizers of the Battle of Aiken will receive about $14,000.

Friction between council members centered on funding for a planned black history and cultural center, which received the biggest allotment - $63,600.

Organizers of the center asked the county for financial assistance more than a year ago and wanted funds from the renewed 1-cent sales tax that voters approved in November.

The council left the center off the tax list because of resistance from some community members. At the time, Councilwoman Kathy Rawls proposed a hospitality tax, which according to state law must fund tourism promoting organizations.

The council never formally agreed to a specific funding level, however, and not every council member committed to using the tax to fund the project.

Councilman Willar Hightower, the council's lone black member and a staunch supporter of the heritage center, bashed his peers on council in recent weeks, saying funding for the center was too low. Center organizers originally asked for $500,000.

"If it hadn't been for the African-American Cultural Center, there wouldn't be any money," Councilman Eddie Butler said during the Tuesday committee meeting before council voted.

Mr. Hightower demurred before the vote was taken, saying, "It's a compromise from last time."

Council members Gary Bunker and Charles Barton voted against the tax list and Scott Singer and LaWana McKenzie abstained from the vote.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com

Tax recipients

- Wagener - $4,275

- Salley - $3,857

- Jackson - $9,500

- Perry - $7,125

- Burnettetown - $30,178

- Jacksonville Lodge/School - $3,658

- Silver Bluff Audubon Center - $16,983

- Olde Towne Preservation Association - $22,920

- Beech Island Historical Society - $3,800

- Battle of Aiken - $13,604

- Railroad Depot in Aiken - $23,750

- African-American Heritage Center in Aiken - $63,600

- Aiken Center for the Arts - $33,750

- American Legion - $35,000



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