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City approves ATAX, HTAX recommendations
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Camden City Council approved 2019/2020 funding recommendations from its accommodations and hospitality tax committees during its meeting Tuesday night.

The Accommodations Tax (ATAX) Committee received nearly $96,100 in ATAX funding requests and recommended funding a little more than half that total at $57,000. Camden Finance Director Debra Courtney said that is the amount the city received in ATAX revenue from the state.

Councilman Stephen Smoak noted there was $8,000 less in ATAX funds to disperse this year and wondered if collections of the tax were down.

Courtney said that was not the case.

“Last year, we had an $11,000 carryover, which we spent,” she said. “This year we only had a $6,000 carryover.”

Smoak said that made him feel better.

“They’re building new hotels at the interstate and they appear to be filling up, so I was going to be surprised if our actual collections from the ATAX were down,” he said.

In nearly every case, the ATAX committee recommended only funding a portion of each organization’s request. The few exceptions are the S.C. Equine Foundation for $6,000 worth of S.C. Equine Park advertising, and the Boykin Spaniel Society for $5,000 for its spring national event. The committee recommended those requests be granted at their full amount.

Other organizations that will receive funds include Camden Jaycees, the Fine Arts Center, National Steeplechase Museum, Olde English District, the Marley Project, Camden Junior Welfare League, Historic Camden, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church.

Mayor Pro Tem Joanna Craig, who conducted the meeting in Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford’s absence, commended the city’s ATAX committee for its work.

“I know you always get requests for a lot more money than you have available each year,” Craig said. “The committee does a good and equitable job of awarding the funding and we appreciate that.”

The Hospitality Tax (HTAX) Committee received $100,000 to disburse to local organizations, whose requests totaled a little more than $210,000.

The only HTAX request the committee recommended funding in full was the first of two requests from the S.C. Equine Center, for $15,000 to upgrade its restroom facilities, part of a three-year request. However, the HTAX Committee did not recommend funding any of a separate $45,000 request from the center for show room upgrades.

The committee’s recommendations for all other requests were below the requested amounts.

They include: Fine Arts Center for promotions and advertising of events, Olde English Tourism for advertsing and ongoing projects, Historic Camden Foundation for rebranding, National Steeplechase Museum for tables and chairs, United Way for various events, Camden Fire Department FireFest, Junior Welfare League Candlelight Tour of Homes and Antique Sale & Show, The Marley Project Equus Film Festival, Carolina Cup Racing Association for signage, Habitat for Humanity Shaggin’ on the Green, Camden Jaycees Battle of Camden BBQ Festival, Boykin Spaniel Society National Field Trials, Food for the Soul’s Jam for the Soul, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Irish Fest.

Councilman Jeffrey Graham said the HTAX is a good way for the city to make an investment in the community.

“Judging from this list, it looks like we’re going to have a busy year with all this activity and that’s exciting,” Graham said. “It was a tough call when we made it several years ago, but the hospitality tax has made a huge difference in our ability to invest in ourselves. I hope the county will consider doing the same.”

Craig noted the diversity of requests made this year for HTAX and ATAX funds.

“Everything from antique shows to band concerts -- it’s just a nice variety of things we’re going to be funding,” she said.

Council also gave first reading to two rezoning ordinances. The first ordinance would rezone adjoining properties at 208 King St. and 709 Mill St. from industrial to limited business district. The property is owned by The ALPHA Center and would allow the center to construct a planned expansion.

“We’re very excited about the ALPHA Center’s expansion and the services they will be able to render,” Graham said.  “They’ve been committed to our community for many years and we’re grateful for them.”

The second ordinance would rezone 1101 Roberts St. from R-15 (residential) to General Business District (GBD) so that it may be combined with a parcel to the south of it at the corner of Roberts and East DeKalb streets for future development. No specific plan for developing the proposed combined lot has been submitted to the city.

During the city’s public comment portion of the meeting, two citizens addressed council on the rezoning request. The first was Mark Rush, who said his family owns property beside the Roberts Street parcel. Rush said he was concerned with what could potentially be built on the property if the rezoning request is approved. Rush said the property has not been kept up and “has been an eyesore for the last 30 years.” He said while he would be happy if the property were sold and maintained, Rush has concerns about drainage and runoff on the property, and increased traffic and noise if the rezoning request is approved. He asked council to deny the request.

Shannon Smith, owner of the properties on Roberts Street, also addressed council, saying the lots are maintained with “regularly scheduled lawn cuts each year.” She said the hope is a “potential buyer from the medical industry” will purchase and make use of the land.

“It’s in a desirable location and one that can benefit the growing hospital and medical community,” she added.

When council took up the rezoning request later in the meeting, Smoak said he wants to be sure that GBD is the best classification for the property.

“Considering the surgery center is directly across the street, it seems like it lines up with that,” he said. “You obviously want to be as careful as possible when you have a business district that so closely borders residential areas. That’s something we have to be mindful of.”

Graham noted requirements for building a structure will be stricter if the property is rezoned to GBD.

“I do think there will be a higher level of care if the property is rezoned,” he said.

Council will consider second reading on the rezoning requests at its first July meeting.

In other business, council:

• Passed a resolution authorizing the consumption of alcohol at an event during the National League of Cities’ Small Business Conference from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Robert Mills Courthouse on July 11.

• Passed a resolution authorizing an agreement between the city and Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC) whereby the city will provide $25,000 annually for fiscal years 2021 through 2025 to assist CCTC in granting full scholarships for six consecutive semesters to every high school graduate in the county with a grade point average of 2.0 or more and who enrolls at CCTC no later than the fall semester after high school graduation. The city will disburse the funds to CCTC no later than Dec. 31 of each fiscal year. The grants cover any tuition, technology or lab fee not covered by federal, state or other grants or scholarships. All other fees, supplies and books would be the students’ responsibility.

• Appointed Mark Chickering to a seat on the Camden Planning Commission with a term to expire Aug. 31, 2023.

• Heard from Jeff Lubetkin during the public comment portion of the meeting. Lubetkin spoke about a “pet peeve” of his -- able-bodied people parking their vehicles in spots reserved for the handicapped. “We have absolutely no law enforcement dedicated for writing tickets for people who illegally park in handicapped spots,” he said. “I feel it’s important for our older veterans and senior citizens to have access to those spots.” Lubetkin said he is proposing the city hire him to ride around and monitor handicapped parking spots. “The average ticket for illegally parking in a handicapped spot is $250,” he said. “I can almost guarantee the council, that with the town growing the way it is, I could write five tickets a day. For a week, that would come to $6,250 … per year, that’s $225,000.”

• Heard from Terry Ballard, who lives on Chestnut Street, during public comment. Ballard shared her concerns about her neighborhood, which she said has deteriorated over the years. “It used to be a loving, community-minded neighborhood where folks felt safe,” she said. “It’s now one of those areas I feel very nervous about being in. I’m concerned about some of the suspicious activity I see around me.” Ballard said she hopes city council is considering ways to revitalize that area. “I’m here hoping that there will be some interest taken in that neighborhood,” she said.