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Htax lawsuit court date set for Oct. 4

Posted: August 28, 2012 7:59 p.m.
Updated: August 29, 2012 5:00 a.m.

They’ll finally get their day in court.

On Oct. 4, nearly 10 months after filing a lawsuit against the city of Camden, Herbert Farber and the Camden Committee for Responsible Government Inc. (CCRG) will make their arguments about why the city should not use hospitality taxes to build a proposed sports complex.

In the January filing, Farber and the CCRG stipulated that while the S.C. State Code of Laws allowed the city to impose the 2 percent tax back in 2009, the sports complex did not fit the tax’s purposes. The group and Farber will ask Circuit Court Judge Jeff Young to declare the use illegal and issue an order “permanently enjoining” the city from expending further hospitality taxes on any phase of the complex’s construction.

State law allows hospitality taxes to be used for specific purposes, including “tourism-related buildings, including but not limited to, civic centers, coliseums and aquariums; and … tourism-related cultural, recreational, or historic facilities.”

The city purchased a portion of the former Boylan-Haven-Mather Academy site at Campbell and Rutledge streets in March 2011 and immediately proposed building the sports complex. The city also proposed that it be managed by a third party, specifically the YMCA of Columbia. The city signed a memorandum of understanding with the YMCA in September 2011.

City officials have repeatedly stated that they feel construction of a possibly YMCA-run sports complex falls under the definition stated in state law. The city’s bond attorney, Margaret Pope -- who helped write the current form of the hospitality tax law -- stated at a city council meeting in August 2011 that the city can use hospitality tax funds to construct the complex.

Since then, a separate citizens group, the Camden Recreation Referendum Coalition (CRRC) conducted three separate petition efforts to halt the sports complex’s construction. The third effort, which came in close proximity to the Farber/CCRG filing in January, garnered signatures from more than a required 15 percent of registered voters to have a question placed on the November ballot asking residents to decide if they want the complex built. The city responded by creating its own question which will appear on the ballot in November.

Farber’s and the CCRG’s attorney, Weston Adams, confirmed the Oct. 4 date, adding that Judge Young ordered that all discovery be completed by Sept. 4, one month before trial.

“We’re still waiting on some documents from the city and we owe them some, but we expect to (comply) with no problems,” Adams said. “We look forward to making our case.”

Camden City Manager Kevin Bronson said pretty much the same.

“It’s good for the city and these citizens to have our day in court. It’s what we’ve been after,” Bronson said. “However, at no time would I have been upset if they had decided to drop their suit.”

Bronson pointed out that the project was put on hold since the Farber/CCRG filing and that it remains on hold pending the outcome of both the lawsuit and the November referendum.

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