By Paul Gable
The City of Myrtle Beach holds a potential nuclear option that could blow up the current parking fee debate between the city and Horry County into a much bigger and more explosive issue.
Nuclear options in political discussion come in various categories. One we hear about often is a threatened change in U.S. Senate rules that could effectively prohibit filibusters.
However, the nuclear option that Myrtle Beach appears to hold could change taxation for many residents within the county, both inside and outside the city limits.
A little background:
The city and county have been at odds over parking fees and areas they are charged in Myrtle Beach city limits.
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus has addressed city council on several occasions attempting to reach some type of compromise that would allow county residents to pay $100 per year for a parking decal that would allow county residents to park at all city owned paid parking locations.
To date, the city has been reluctant to adopt Lazarus’ plan.
Personally, I don’t believe any of the city’s parking fees are justified, especially because they go to fund the Downtown Redevelopment Corporation, a notoriously underperforming enterprise.
In response to the city’s reticence, county council voted last week to not include $200,000 for the city’s planned museum/library complex and $30,000 specifically for Chapin Memorial Library in the county budget. The city requested both amounts.
At Tuesday’s Myrtle Beach City Council meeting, council member Mary Jeffcoat requested city staff to prepare a review of the amount of property tax revenue city residents pay to the county and what services city residents receive as a result of those taxes.
That request lies at the source of the city’s potential nuclear option, even though I’m not sure Jeffcoat understands exactly just what a Pandora’s Box she has opened up.
According to several county officials, somewhere between 35% and 40% of all county property taxes paid by city residents go toward funding the Horry County Police Department. But Myrtle Beach city residents get virtually no police services from HCPD.
The reasons for this are several, not the least of which are court rulings that prohibit HCPD officers from providing service within the city without an express request by MBPD and only when accompanied by a MBPD officer.
Therefore, while Myrtle Beach property owners pay for funding two police departments (MBPD and HCPD) they effectively only receive service from MBPD. Some would argue property owners in the traditional south end of the city pay taxes to fund two police departments, but receive no service.
Myrtle Beach residents are basically subject to dual taxation for one service, a foundation for a lawsuit, I believe, the county would be hard pressed to defend.
If the county lost such a suit, it would probably have to fund HCPD through a special purpose tax district including only unincorporated areas of the county in the same way the county fire department is currently funded.
This would mean city property taxes would go down since those properties in the city limits would not be part of the new tax district. County property taxes would have to be increased to maintain the same level of service currently provided by HCPD.
This is not necessarily the outcome that will occur from the current parking fee dispute. But, it certainly could be the final outcome if things go too much further.
Such would make the $100 parking fee seem cheap to residents of Carolina Forest compared to the likely property tax increase associated with a special purpose tax district to fund HCPD.