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County Council, September 4

Approves final distribution amounts to charities
But some change possible in evaluation process
Warwick Jones

Council decided the final figures for this fiscal year’s distribution from the General Fund to charities, and from Accommodation Fees to entities generating tourist related revenues. In our view, there were no surprises. Council members had already indicated the recipients and the proposed amount. Last night’s meeting brought about only minor changes.

The final lists can be accessed - for Outside Agencies Download file, from Accommodations Fees Download file.

Staff to have another look at process
Chairman Scott at the closing of last night session noted that the Outside Agency distributions had received a lot of press. But he indicated his support for the process as it was and noted that the charities supported were “reducing the cost of government”. But presumably because of the criticism, he planned to ask staff, in particularly the Grants Department, to review the process to enable distributions to better serve “the public purpose”.

Attorney describes County policy as legally “solid”
Council member Condon, who last year led the demand for a tighter evaluation process, questioned County Attorney about what the County was doing and its legality. Attorney Dawson expressed confidence that the County policy was “solid“and was satisfied with the accountability provisions imposed on the recipients.

Accommodation Fee distributions similar to last year
To a large extent, the approvals for the distribution of Accommodation Fees were similar to those of FY 2007. This year, the Charleston Food and Wine Festival was added and received $25,000. The Denmark Vesey Monument received $25,000 last year and will receive $40,000 this year.

The Lowcountry Aids Services allocation of $10,000 received some scrutiny. It may be a noble cause but how did it contribute to the tourist industry? The explanation was that it brought a number of visitors to Charleston each year with its “Dining with Friends” event. Some Council members were skeptical and asked how many visitors? About 1000 they were told. Total distribution from Accommodation Fees was $469,175.

Surplus of $3.3 million in Fund……..
In response to a question from Council member Schweers, Council was told that the balance in the Accommodation Fee Fund was about $3.3 million. The Council member asked whether some of the funds could in some way be returned to tax payers. Staff is to make a presentation to Council about the obligations relating to the Fund.

but how much available for discretionary distribution
We spoke to Staff later about the balance, and although $3.3 million may seem a lot, not too much may be available for higher discretionary distribution. Roughly the County expects to receive about $9.7 million in FY 2008 in fees. But there are obligations for the distribution of a large part of the receipts - to municipalities in which the fees are levied, to the County General Fund, to capital projects undertaken by the municipalities, and others. Some of these obligations are formula-driven and make calculations complex.

The balance on the Accommodation Fee Fund at the end of recent years has been around $3 million we understand, suggesting that most of the funds that have been received each year have been paid out. This would also suggest that what ever is shown in the Staff presentation as being surplus, the amount may be modest.