Post Tagged with: "Chris Eldridge"

County Council Votes Hospitality Tax Funds for Public Safety and I-73

July 27, 2018 4:10 AM
County Council Votes Hospitality Tax Funds for Public Safety and I-73

Last Tuesday’s special meeting of Horry County Council provided some interesting insights into ongoing deliberations about the future use of hospitality tax revenue.

Technically called a hospitality fee by Horry County Government, the two and one-half percent tax is collected on all tourist accommodations, prepared foods and attraction tickets sold throughout the county. The revenue is split with one cent per dollar going to the jurisdiction (municipality or unincorporated county) in which it is collected.

The remaining one and one-half cent per dollar goes to the county to pay off Ride I bonds. Those bonds are expected to be paid off in the first half of calendar year 2019.

A sunset provision was placed on the one and one-half cent per dollar tax, when legislation implementing the tax in Horry County was passed, providing that portion of the tax would end when the bonds were paid off.

County council voted in Spring 2017 to remove the sunset provision and extend the tax indefinitely. The one and one-half cent per dollar tax is expected to generate $41 million revenue in calendar year 2019.

When the sunset provision was removed by a three reading ordinance of county council last spring, council chairman Mark Lazarus stated he would like to use the revenue to fund construction of Interstate 73. The projected revenue would have allowed the county to bond approximately $500 million for a 20-year period to help fund the I-73 project. It is expected completion of the I-73 portion from I-95 near Dillon to U.S. 17 in Myrtle Beach will cost approximately $1.2 billion.

This spring, Johnny Gardner challenged Lazarus for the Republican nomination for council chairman on the November 2018 general election ballot. During the primary campaign, Gardner focused on the public safety and infrastructure needs of the county, proposing using a portion of hospitality tax revenue to help meet those needs. Gardner won the nomination in June 2018 primary voting.

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Treasurer Drops Lawsuit, County Refuses to Disclose Legal Costs

May 18, 2018 9:41 AM
Treasurer Drops Lawsuit, County Refuses to Disclose Legal Costs

Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones yesterday filed to dismiss her lawsuit against Horry County and county administrator Chris Eldridge with prejudice for all events that relate to the lawsuit up through the date of filing, May 17, 2018.

Jones initially filed her lawsuit in November 2017 after county government refused to add one additional administrative assistant position to the current year budget for the Treasurer’s Office. Jones said the amount of additional funds the position would have required was approximately $43,000 including salary and benefit costs.

The dismissal does not affect Jones’ potential “to assert claims relating to future circumstances that may arise,” according to the filing.

Related to Jones’ filing, the county dismissed all claims against Jones related to its Amended Answer and Counterclaims.

According to the stipulation of dismissal, each party is solely responsible for its own costs and attorneys’ fees.

On May 3, 2018, this reporter filed a Freedom  of Information Act request with Horry County Government for “Total amount to date spent by Horry County to McNair Law Firm specifically for legal services pursuant to the Horry County Treasurer/Angie Jones v. Horry County government and Administrator Chris Eldridge.”

Henrietta Golding of the McNair Law Firm was lead attorney for the county’s defense.

On May 17, 2018, the same day the dismissals were filed with the court, Horry County Public Information Specialist Kelly Brosky sent the following response to my request, “Your request for information is not covered under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act and is declined.”

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Budgets, Elections and Micromanagement in Horry County

April 30, 2018 7:30 AM
Budgets, Elections and Micromanagement in Horry County

There are six weeks to go before county voters will go to the polls to vote in local, state and federal primary elections.

The race which seems to be drawing the largest amount of attention throughout Horry County at this time is the Republican Primary contest for Horry County Council Chairman between challenger Johnny Gardner and incumbent Mark Lazarus.

At the same time, Horry County Council is considering its budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins July 1, 2018. Four weeks ago, Grand Strand Daily ran a story about the proposed FY 2019 budget calling it an election year budget because of provisions in the proposed budget that appear to be included just to attract voters to incumbents.

Unfortunately, this type of focus on the budget at election time does not serve the best interests of council or the citizens.

According to multiple sources within county government, decisions for Horry County are being micromanaged by a partnership between Lazarus and County Administrator Chris Eldridge.

This partnership proposed an average three percent merit raise for all county employees with somewhat larger raises targeted to public safety personnel (police, fire and EMS) in the FY2019 budget.

This is not to say the proposed raises are unjustified. However, this type of targeting and its associated hype during council’s Spring Budget Retreat appear to be more about the votes of county employees than the needs of the county. County employees along with their families, neighbors and friends comprise a large voting block.

The micromanagement partnership focus appears to be on the wrong issues, however.

Despite the proposed raises, Horry County Professional Firefighter Local 4345 of the International Association of Firefighters and Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 endorsed the candidacy of Gardner in the upcoming June 12, 2018 primary.

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Horry County Spins More Negativity Toward Treasurer

April 20, 2018 4:00 AM
Horry County Spins More Negativity Toward Treasurer

Horry County officials again put a negative spin on comments about the Horry County Treasurer’s Office in a story by a local news outlet this week.

The story questioned Treasurer Angie Jones hiring of former Horry County Clerk of Courts Melanie Huggins-Ward to clear up the backlog of tax refunds owed to Horry County taxpayers.

The issue dates back to July 6, 2017, three days after Jones took office. Jones requested the county contract with Huggins-Ward for a part-time position to work on the refund backlog.

Assistant County Administrator Justin Powell responded by saying Jones was $20,591.72 over budget based on proposed salaries. He also included the following statement: “It is my understanding it is financially favorable to her (Huggins-Ward) to work as a contractor rather than as an employee because it prevents her pension from being cut off after earning $10,000 with the county. Human Resources is contacting the South Carolina Retirement System and IRS this morning to ask their opinion on the use of a contract to circumvent the SCRS earnings limitations on retirees. The last thing any of us wants is the appearance of an attempt to “game” the Internal Revenue Code or laws governing the South Carolina Retirement System.”

County officials made certain this email was included in documents provided to the media outlet. Of course, the comment about ‘gaming the system’ was jumped all over.

It appears this was the intention of county officials all along, because an email to Jones from Horry County Human Resources Director Patrick Owens bearing the same July 6, 2017 date was not included, but contained the following suggestion:

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Primary Filing Opens But Do Campaigns Mean Anything?

March 19, 2018 3:11 AM
Primary Filing Opens But Do Campaigns Mean Anything?

Filing opened last Friday for candidates in the upcoming June 12, 2018 Republican and Democrat party primary elections. Filing for candidates will close at noon Friday March 30, 2018.

The biggest name filing for re-election on the first day was Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.

We will now see three months of campaigning, led by incumbents to convince the voters to continue their time in office.

But, have the incumbents really served the needs of the people or worked for other agendas?

Unfortunately “fake” is the political environment of today. Most politicians occupy a fake reality where they say one thing when campaigning, do another when in office and cry “fake news” and attempt to change the narrative when their duplicity is pointed out. It often works because voters do not have the time or desire to acquaint themselves with the issues and, instead, rely on sound bites for their information.

The few who try to stick to the facts and have a reasonable discussion of the issues are too often defeated because of their honesty.

Four years ago, Lazarus committed to the voters to “Oppose new taxes” on his Lazarusforchair.com website under issues.

This commitment quickly went by the wayside. After being re-elected, Lazarus became the biggest proponent on council for raising taxes with the largest tax increase in Horry County history resulting. Property taxes were raised 7.2 mills and the annual vehicle fee paid to the county was raised from $30 to $50 per vehicle.

To sell the tax increase it was billed as an increase for public safety. Voters bought into this narrative during budget discussions only to be fooled after the tax increase was approved. As councilman Harold Worley said at the time, “Not one penny of the tax increase will go toward putting one extra officer on the street. Response times will not go down nor will community policing increase because of the tax increase.”

Worley was correct in his assessment. What most voters didn’t know was the tax increase was the result of a huge outcry by county employees after County Administrator Chris Eldridge received a large pay increase from council between first and second reading of the budget. A large portion of the “public safety” tax increase went to a pay increase for all county employees, not to improve public safety.

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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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Passing Bad Tax Increase Legislation

June 16, 2015 5:00 AM
Passing Bad Tax Increase Legislation

There is nothing more irritating to me, than Legislators who don’t read vital pieces of legislation but just pass it into law.

The dumb remark from one time speaker of the U S House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, “you have to pass it, to know what’s in it”, has now resonated with our Horry County Council members.

Our esteemed County Council members are going to vote on increasing the property taxes, to the maximum rate provided by law, and most of them have not read the legislation, nor have any conception of what is in the legislation they are about to pass.

The one Council member who is a Friend of the Taxpayer, Harold Worley, does know where the money is going. Worley had a withering exchange with Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge on how, where, and why the increased funds, are going to be appropriated and spent.

Interesting, to note is that Eldridge’s salary will be increased $10,000 per year for the next four years amounting to $40,000.00 at a time when the County is asking everyone to tighten their belts for austerity. These my friends are our County Council Republican members in action.

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The Ungraceful Horry County Budget

May 22, 2014 8:00 AM
The Ungraceful Horry County Budget

What appeared to be a shock to Horry County Council Tuesday night that county revenues will decline as a result of reassessment of property values should not have been.

A year ago we wrote that the county would experience a decrease in overall land value as a result of reassessment and council would have to raise taxes in order to keep tax revenue at the same levels as before reassessment.

Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge tried to lessen the shock by saying it’s not a huge amount of money that is being talked about.

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