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Who’s Paying?

Eight counties have lifted Sunday sales restrictions, most by reaching the $900,000 trigger, the S.C. Association of Counties said.

Spartanburg and Pickens are the only counties to vote to lift the restrictions.

Eleven years ago, Lexington voters maintained the restrictions by a 52-47 percent vote.

Richland County lifted the ban by meeting the $900,000 trigger.

The accommodations tax is set at 2 percent by state law. It is added to sales taxes when customers check out.

Tourism-rich counties such as Horry, Charleston and Beaufort collect millions yearly.

Counties that are lesser tourist destinations have to wait and work to reach the tax trigger.

That’s been the case in Lexington.

Lexington’s estimated 32 motels have reached an average occupancy rate of almost 70 percent, figures from Smith Travel Research, a widely cited travel and tourism analysis company, show.

The number of Lexington lodgings that charge accommodations tax, including bed-and-breakfast establishments and tourist camps, has held between 55 and 65 for five years, according to the S.C. Revenue Department.

However, Lexington’s motel occupancy rates rose 13.4 percentage points between 2002 and 2006, Smith Travel reports.

On the Columbia side of the river, occupancy rates in Richland County, which has twice as many motels and hotels, grew by 2.4 percentage points during those five years.

Since 2002, Lexington rented 30,180 more rooms yearly than did Richland even though the average number of rooms available daily was 2,566 in Lexington and 7,307 in Richland, Smith Travel reports.

“The smaller county is actually selling more rooms,” Smith Travel spokesman Jan Freitag said.

Average daily room rates in Lexington have risen 17 percent during the same period, compared with 21 percent in Richland.

The demand for lodging in Lexington is driving developers to add about 250 more rooms with three motels under construction or about to break ground along I-20 or U.S. 378, said Tom Sponseller, president of the S.C. Hospitality Association.

In addition, a more than $10 million renovation of a Radisson, at I-20 and Bush River Road, and significant improvements at a Holiday Inn, near

Columbia Metropolitan Airport, indicate more visitors are expected, Sponseller said.

Many visitors passing through the capital city area stop in Lexington County because of the convenience of motels along three interstates.

But attractions such as sporting and fishing tournaments also bring thousands for longer stays.

About 8,900 competitors from 21 states, Japan and Canada participated in Lake Murray fishing tournaments in 2002 and last year, said Atria, whose organization promotes the 78-square-mile lake.

She said about 45,000 people will attend an international tournament slated for August 2008.

Softball tournaments drew 750 teams and 11,250 participants last year, according to the county recreation commission. Most came from elsewhere.

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