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County renews hotel-motel tax pact with Chamber

POSTED: June 16, 2014 7:38 p.m.

The Effingham Chamber of Commerce’s tourism efforts will get a continued boost, after the county commissioners approved extending the hotel-motel tax for another year.

The levy is a 5 percent charge on hotels and motels in the unincorporated portions of the county. Under the terms of the agreement, the Chamber gets 80 percent of the proceeds, and the remainder goes to the county.

Also according to the agreement, the Chamber will take use of its proceeds for cultural or recreational events for county residents and visitors.

The Chamber also will put together a tourism brochure and buy an ad in Visit Savannah’s guide.

“By buying that ad, we reach much further,” said Chamber past president Dinah King. “We can’t reach the numbers they reach, so by having that ad in there we reach much further.”

The Chamber’s tourism brochure, which is placed at the state visitors center on I-95 and also around Savannah, now includes the renovated Mars Theatre.

“Right now we’re only covering half the cost of those brochures,” King said.

Last year, the county set a target of $15,000 for the hotel-motel tax proceeds, but the actual revenue generated was closer to $9,000.

“It was a shot in the dark at best,” said interim county administrator Toss Allen. “We had no historical data to go on.”

The Chamber also curtailed some of the plans it had in mind, including a proposed gateway project for Highway 21. A Leadership Effingham class last year took on a potential gateway as its project.

“They did cut some of the things they were doing,” Allen said. “They were just unable to fund them.”

Added King: “We were hoping the funds would be greater.”

Commissioners asked about a gateway project and about the potential of the Chamber backing such events as the Effingham Festival, which took the place this year of the annual Olde Effingham Days.

Allen explained that the state Department of Transportation has gateway grants but those aren’t for signs. Rather, those grants are designed for greenery, such as Rincon’s work on the Highway 21 inside the city limits.

“They are not coming back if we don’t make it a good thing for them to be here,” Commissioner Vera Jones said. “We need a decent looking gateway if we want them to come back. That is one thing I hear.”

Those plantings also have to be outside the highway’s clear zone, Allen added. Where the Chamber looked at doing that on Highway 21, with the 55 mph speed limit, the clear zone expanded from 16 feet to 22 feet, putting any gateway effort into the roadside bushes.

“There was just nowhere to do it,” Allen said.

It also meant having to create the gateway on private property instead of public right-of-way. To erect a sizable brick sign that would be a more visually pleasing welcome could cost from $15,000-$20,000.

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