Local residents would pay to keep Heritage

By Tim Guidera - bio | email

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WTOC) - It seems everybody in the Lowcountry is trying to come up with a way to save the Heritage Classic, which is still seeking a title sponsor.

But one idea is being put on hold for now. U.S. Representative Andy Patrick, in his first term on Hilton Head Island, has held off on proposing a one-percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax over the next three years in Beaufort County that he says would raise enough money to secure the PGA Tour event through 2014.

But he might soon revisit the idea.

Patrick said from Columbia today a local tax increase would be a last resort and that tournament officials and elected officials would hope to explore all other possibilities first.

"All of us, the mayor, the county council, don't want to be in position where we're proposing new taxes,'' Patrick said in a phone interview. "This would simply be meant as a backstop if all other efforts fail. If that happened, I think it would be important to offer Beaufort County residents the opportunity to determine their own destiny.''

The conservative Republican just coming into office even suggesting a tax increase should be a sign of how important keeping the Heritage is to the area.

The tournament is critical to the economy and lifestyle of the Lowcountry. It draws international attention to Hilton Head, generates revenue for local businesses and is a tremendous marketing tool for the entire region.

And shoppers in the Lowcountry today said the tournament is so important that it had to be saved at any cost, even if it is one penny per dollar on every purchase for the next three years.

"Well, the Heritage is real big down here,'' said Patrick Hastings of Hilton Head. "It generates a lot of income. I think a tax is a great idea, I have no problem with one percent to keep it going.''

"I don't really mind, but I think they should exhaust all other avenues first,'' added Rosemary Weiss, of Beaufort. "I don't think we should lose the Heritage if it means having an extra tax.''

With opinions on the issue as personal and as political as taxes themselves, not everyone agreed with a potential increase.

"I personally believe that the Heritage is a good thing,'' said Terry Trotter of Bluffton. "But increasing the tax? Don't we pay enough in taxes already?

"I believe if we have to increase the tax to keep it here, maybe we should think about letting it go.''

But the possibility of the tournament, and its $80-million annual impact on the Lowcountry, leaving Hilton Head after 42 years convinced most that any means of keeping it would be acceptable.

"Hopefully we can find a sponsor,'' said Henry Reynolds. "But if we can't, I think the community needs to do everything we can do to keep the tournament here, including a tax increase.''

Patrick had planned to submit a bill next week that would eventually allow residents to vote on a potential tax increase.

He now says he'll wait and will first meet with South Carolina's new governor, Nikki Hailey, to discuss the importance of the Heritage and what the state can do to help Hilton Head keep the event.

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