County Council Defers I-73 Decision Until Next Meeting – Updated

March 20, 2019 5:26 AMViews: 6924

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John Bonsignor and I hosted North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley today on our television show Talking Politics. During the discussion with Mayor Hatley, I asked about the new North Myrtle Beach city ordinance keeping all hospitality tax collected in the city. Mayor Hatley said the city expects an additional $7 million annually from the hospitality tax.

I specifically asked Mayor Hatley if anyone had approached the city about dedicating some of the new hospitality tax revenue to the I-73 project. Mayor Hatley responded that she had received a call from Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune on that subject.

Mayor Hatley said North Myrtle Beach would consider the request but ONLY if EVERYONE has some “skin in the game”. I inquired if “everyone” includes the state and federal governments and she said “yes.”

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By Paul Gable

Horry County Council members deferred taking any action amending the I-73 Financial Participation Agreement with SCDOT until the next regularly scheduled meeting April 2, 2019.

Issues with the agreement first arose when the cities of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach passed ordinances recently reducing hospitality tax revenues to Horry County thereby removing much of the anticipated money needed to fund the I-73 agreement.

Last week, members of the county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Committee tasked county staff with renegotiating two key areas of the financial agreement with SCDOT – delay of the start of any work under the agreement until January 1, 2020 and remove Section III(D) of the agreement which reads in part, “…“The County’s prior approval shall not be required to enter into contract agreements for improvements to SC-22, provided the cost thereof does not exceed the estimates provided in the Annual Work Plan. Nor shall the County’s prior approval be required for any right-of-way acquisition agreement or consultant agreement for work of the Project provided the cost thereof does not exceed the estimates provided in the Annual Work Plan.”

Members of the I&R Committee did not want to allow SCDOT to enter into any type of contract agreements without prior approval of county council.

As the agreement currently reads, county council only has prior approval on construction contracts.

When the agreement was first approved during the council’s November 28, 2018 fall budget workshop, council was briefed that SCDOT could not spend any money on the project without prior approval from the county. The agreement reads differently, as can be seen above.

Council approved the agreement after hard lobbying for it by former council chairman Mark Lazarus, county administrator Chris Eldridge and some members of the county’s legislative delegation to the General Assembly.

Council was reportedly told last night that SCDOT would agree to changing the start date of the contract to January 1, 2020, but any change to the prior approval section of the agreement was a “deal breaker.”

This makes no sense as the county is the only one responsible for funding the project under the current terms of the agreement, a position the county should not find itself in to begin with especially with hospitality tax revenue to the county a great big question mark at this point in time.

Why does SCDOT insist on having the ability to enter into right of way acquisition agreements and engineering and design consultant agreements without county approval?

An obvious, but unanswered, question is who stands to gain immediate benefit from those two types of agreements and how does that answer track back, if at all, to those who lobbied so hard to get the agreement signed in November?

In light of the recent actions of the cities raising many questions about where the money will come from to fund the agreement and the obvious questions about fiduciary responsibility of county council members to their constituents, why is it so difficult to get a hard majority of county council to agree to cancel the agreement?

Hopefully, many citizens throughout the county will demand answers to the above questions from their council members over the next two weeks.

 

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