NMB Takes Proper Approach to Tourism Development Fee

February 1, 2018 4:39 AM
NMB Takes Proper Approach to Tourism Development Fee

North Myrtle Beach is to be commended on taking what many consider the proper approach to deciding whether to institute a tourism development fee (TDF) in the city.

City Council decided it was appropriate for the residents of North Myrtle Beach to decide whether a TDF is to be collected. Therefore, a referendum on whether to approve the TDF is scheduled for March 6, 2018 in a stand-alone vote.

The role of the city ends with the decision to hold a referendum. No government body, personnel or equipment may be involved in the campaign, according to state law. Individuals who are government personnel may only support or oppose the referendum question on their own time outside of government facilities and not as part of their official duties.

State Law Sec. 8-13-765 states in part, “No person may use government personnel, equipment, materials, or an office building in an election campaign,” and “This section does not prohibit government personnel, where not otherwise prohibited, from participating in election campaigns on their own time and on nongovernment premises.”

If approved, the TDF is a one percent fee charged on all purchases in the city to which state sales tax applies. Items such as food, rent/mortgage and medicines are exempted.

If approved, 80% of the revenue collected from the fee will be given to a marketing organization, usually the local Chamber of Commerce, to promote tourism from out-of-area locations. The remaining 20% goes to the city for things such as owner-occupied property tax rebates, public safety, parking and other infrastructure or similar types of city expenses.

From statements made recently to media, it appears the city will use the state mandated minimum (4% of the total revenue) to apply to property tax rebates to owner-occupied properties. The remaining 16% of revenues will be used for other city initiatives.

This approach is the best because it shares the benefits of the fee to the largest number of citizens, rather than keeping it for just a small percentage of the population.

A significant portion of the revenue will come directly from tourists and the city’s portion of the revenue can offset some of the costs to the local economy from the tourism industry.

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Horry County Treasurer Request Nixed by Administrator, County Council

January 25, 2018 5:00 AM
Horry County Treasurer Request Nixed by Administrator, County Council

A request by Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones to have county administrator Chris Eldridge sign off on an addendum to a contract with a county software supplier was shot down at Tuesday’s regular meeting of county council.

Jones made a presentation to county council about a new service the Treasurer wanted to institute in Horry County. The service would provide taxpayers who pay vehicle taxes in person at the Treasurer’s Office or one of the satellite offices with a new vehicle registration and decal for the license plate when the payment is made.

A convenience fee of $1 would be added to the vehicle tax notices to add this service.

According to Jones presentation, this service is already in place in 32 of the 46 counties in South Carolina and the $1 convenience fee is established by the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

After Jones presentation, council chairman Mark Lazarus called for Horry County staff to address some issues with allowing the Treasurer’s Office to offer this convenience.

Eldridge moved to the microphone to speak for the staff. He began his remarks with the statement, “Of course there is litigation going on currently between the Treasurer’s Office and Horry County Council.”

Actually, the litigation is Angie Jones, Individually and as Horry County Treasurer v. Horry County, a body Politic and Chris Eldridge, in his capacity as Horry County Administrator.

Eldridge went on to say the request was a budgetary issue and if council wants it done, “it isn’t that much.” He would prefer to see it go through the normal budgetary process and would not support the $1 fee.

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Fixing the Damage Caused by the Myrtle Beach DRC

January 14, 2018 4:30 AM
Fixing the Damage Caused by the Myrtle Beach DRC

A sometimes heated public input session at last week’s DRC (Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation) board meeting highlighted the agency’s confusion about its status and the responsibility it has to the public.

The DRC likes to tout itself as a private corporation and some of its recent moves, such as secretly purchasing properties in the Superblock until outed by local media, speak to that attitude.

 However, South Carolina law is clear that the DRC is a public body and, as such, owes the citizens full transparency of its actions.

The DRC was created by Myrtle Beach city ordinance and is funded from the parking fees collected from meters and lots on city property. The city set up a $10 million line of credit from a local bank for the DRC to purchase properties. Money to pay back draws on this line of credit comes from the parking fee revenues.

Among those entities defined as a public body subject to the S.C. Freedom of Information statute are “any organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds․” S.C.Code Ann. § 30–4–20(a). 

 In a July 17, 2013 decision (DiSabato v South Carolina Association of School Administrators), the S. C. Supreme Court held, “When a block of public funds is diverted en masse from a public body to a related organization, or when the related organization undertakes the management of the expenditure of public funds, the only way that the public can determine with specificity how those funds were spent is through access to the records and affairs of the organization receiving and spending the funds.”

The parking fees, themselves, are a problem. They appear to violate deed restrictions included when Myrtle Beach Farms transferred company owned land to the city along the oceanfront.

This violation not only applies to parking areas charging fees along the Golden Mile, but also to the many areas in the south end of the city where parking fees have been charged for a number of years.

One of the deed restrictions states, “…property shall not be used for commercial purposes by any person, private corporation, municipal corporation or agency of government.”

If parking fees are collected, the revenue is dedicated to the DRC and the DRC uses this revenue to purchase property, how can the collection of the fees not be considered “for commercial purposes?”

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Attorney for Angie Jones Hits Core of County Lawsuit Argument

January 8, 2018 8:08 AM
Attorney for Angie Jones Hits Core of County Lawsuit Argument

Gene Connell, attorney for Treasurer Angie Jones in her lawsuit against county government, hit at the core of the county’s argument in its answer and counterclaim to Jones’ complaint.

In a Motion to Strike certain portions of the county answer, Connell wrote, “…such allegations have nothing to do with the case, nor with Jones’s request of this court and are only meant to defame and/or to be scandalous to the Plaintiff,” and addressing another allegation “Defendant only seeks to impugn the Plaintiff’s character.”

These statements hit at the basic core of the county’s argument. Certain members of county staff and county government have become imperious in their attitudes toward disagreement, criticism and anyone who dares to challenge them.

Connell is correct in that the county has ignored the essence of Jones’ complaint and has chosen to seek revenge on her for filing the lawsuit by attacking her personally.

‘Attack’, ‘revenge’ and ‘fake news’ have quickly become a staple part of political lexicon in America today to the detriment of American style government and the citizens it is supposed to serve.

Many of our supposed leaders forget they were elected to serve, not anointed to rule.

Frankly, all Jones is attempting to do is attain enough employees to provide the level of service the citizens of the county expect and deserve.

According to state law, employees of the Treasurer’s Office and level of service fall only in the purview of the county treasurer.

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New Year Brings New Hope and New Challenges

January 2, 2018 5:49 AM
New Year Brings New Hope and New Challenges

A New Year traditionally brings with it new hope and positive feelings about the year ahead.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus commented in a Facebook post on New Year’s Day about making 2018 a year of positivism. I hope Lazarus is able to achieve that positivism in county government.

This year will be interesting with three new members recently elected to Myrtle Beach City Council, including a new mayor, and seven council members up for re-election for Horry County Council including Chairman Lazarus.

But it takes more than hopes and feelings to achieve positive results in government. It takes hard work, transparency and proper goal setting to get the most “bang” for each “buck” collected from the taxpaying public.

Both Myrtle Beach City Council and Horry County Council have been lax in this area in years past.

Maybe the most important thing both councils have to remember is the citizens elect them to make decisions that benefit the community as a whole. Council then directs staff to carry out these decisions.

Too often, this process has become muddled with certain council and staff members working behind closed doors to benefit special interests at the expense of the general public. This is at least part of the reason Myrtle Beach has three new members of council.

Below are just a few of the actions by city council that the public voted against in November:

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Questioning the Arrogant County Response to the Angie Jones Lawsuit

December 18, 2017 11:02 AM
Questioning the Arrogant County Response to the Angie Jones Lawsuit

Horry County’s response to the lawsuit filed by Treasurer Angie Jones raises many questions about what exactly is going on in county government.

Shortly after assuming office on July 1, 2017, Jones requested funding be added to the Treasurer’s Office budget of approximately $30,000 in order to hire one additional clerk to help with service to customers in Conway, Myrtle Beach, Little River and Surfside Beach offices as needed.

This request was rejected by the county council’s Administration Committee.

As a result, Jones filed her lawsuit against the county requesting sufficient funding and staffing to effectively run her office.

In response to the summons and complaint, the county charged, “… such issues are solely as a result of her (Jones) mismanagement of her offices and her own decisions, including her decisions to drive out and remove and replace competent long-term employees with friends and political supporters lacking in relevant experience.”

In addition, the county alleges Jones has exceeded the budget for the Treasurer’s Office and should be held personally responsible for paying back to the county any budget deficit as well as attorney’s fees for defending the lawsuit.

Speaking of mismanagement and paying back budget deficits by this county government is laughable in light of past and present issues with its initiatives, its budget and its decisions.

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Horry County Response to Treasurer Angie Jones Lawsuit Goes Beyond Legal Issues

December 15, 2017 7:01 AM
Horry County Response to Treasurer Angie Jones Lawsuit Goes Beyond Legal Issues

The response filed by Horry County Government December 14, 2017, to a lawsuit filed by Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones last month, appears to take the issues in the case out of the purely legal realm.

At some level within the government, this case certainly seems to be more personal than merely a disagreement over funding for the Treasurer’s Office.

The following extracts from the county’s response provide some insight:

Para. 5 First Defense – “… legal issues manufactured by Jones are not genuine legal issues, but issues solely caused by Jones’s failure to properly manage the Office of the Treasurer and properly understand South Carolina State law regarding the obligations and responsibilities of county treasurers in South Carolina as well as the functioning of county government.”

Para. 8 First Defense – “… Jones has consistently attempted to manipulate, usurp and contravene the budgeting powers and process of Horry County, to include the bringing of this legal action and casting constant blame on others including the prior Treasurer, for the sole purpose of misleading the public, justifying the employment of friends and political supporters and diverting attention away from her mismanagement of the Treasurer’s Office.”

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Impact Fees Wrong Solution for Horry County Council

December 3, 2017 5:27 AM
Impact Fees Wrong Solution for Horry County Council

An old issue has again surfaced as Horry County Council is reportedly looking at ways to change the state impact fee law to help pay for the costs of development.

Twelve to twenty or so years ago this was a recurring issue council routinely discussed until it became apparent nothing would change in Columbia.

That discussion was interrupted by the collapse of the mortgage market and resulting depression which began in 2008 and which, now, the housing market appears to be finally recovering from.

The current impact fee law was effectively written to ensure impact fees would not be levied in Horry County. A primary sponsor on that piece of legislation was Horry County’s own Sen. Luke Rankin.

The builders, real estate agents and their attorneys do not want impact fees in Horry County and their lobby in Columbia has been strong enough, to date, to stop them.

New construction creates increased costs to provide local government infrastructure and services. Impact fees theoretically have those costs initially paid for by the new residents. Without impact fees, those costs are spread among all residents throughout the county.

Further limiting the ability of local government to meet the costs of providing new, as well as maintaining existing, infrastructure and services is the infamous Act 388 of 2006, which was vigorously supported by our county legislative delegation.

Much of the blame for any shortage of police officers, fire and emergency services, roads and other infrastructure lies directly at the feet of those we have been sending to Columbia over the years.

However, by looking to effect changes in the impact fee law, Horry County Council is also being shortsighted.

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Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones Lawsuit Raises Questions About County Budget

November 25, 2017 11:04 AM
Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones Lawsuit Raises Questions About County Budget

A lawsuit filed by Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones against Horry County Government earlier this week raises questions about the county budget and the process used to establish it.

In her complaint, Jones claims the county government is not meeting its constitutional responsibility to adequately fund and staff her department.

As a result, Jones says her department is short of personnel necessitating closing of satellite offices for periods of time during the workday, thereby inhibiting the amount and timeliness of service provided by the department to the public.

Jones was elected to office in November 2016, but was not sworn in until the beginning of the current fiscal year on July 1, 2017, in accordance with state law.

During the interim period between election and swearing in, Jones says she was not allowed by county council to take part in the budget process for the current fiscal year, even though she knew additional personnel were needed in the department.

During an interview on “Talking Politics”, a television show co-hosted by John Bonsignor and this writer, Jones said she approached the county administration committee to request funds to hire another administrative assistant to help alleviate the shortages in satellite offices.

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Judge Orders Discovery in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owner Lawsuit

November 19, 2017 4:19 AM
Judge Orders Discovery in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owner Lawsuit

A federal magistrate judge has ordered discovery to go forward in a lawsuit brought by Aaron Holly against Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Robinson Aviation, the operator of the control tower at Grand Strand Airport.

Holly claims conspiracy among the defendants to deprive him of his Constitutional rights with respect to 14th Amendment protections and for interference with his business, Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB), and contractual ties between SDMB and HCDA in order to illegally shutdown SDMB.

A short historical perspective on the relationship between Horry County Department of Airports and Skydive Myrtle Beach follows:

Skydive Myrtle Beach is a tandem skydiving business owned and operated by armed services veterans.

It began operating its business in Horry County in 2012 after signing an eight year lease with Ramp 66, the county’s general aviation operator of Grand Strand Airport at that time.

After Horry County government bought out Ramp 66 in 2013, it appears that concentrated efforts were made by HCDA to close down the operations of Skydive Myrtle Beach.

Tandem skydiving is a recognized and approved use of publicly supported airport facilities by the Federal Aviation Administration.

It is illegal for an airport that accepts publicly funded grants to discriminate against one type of approved aviation activity, say helicopter operations, over another – tandem skydiving.

The only excuse allowed by the FAA for shutting down approved aviation operations is that those operations contribute to an unsafe environment at the airport.

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