Post Tagged with: "Horry County Council"

Smooth Evacuation Contradicts I-73 Claims

September 3, 2019 9:23 AM
Smooth Evacuation Contradicts I-73 Claims

The Grand Strand evacuated Zone A yesterday in preparation of the oncoming Hurricane Dorian.

Zone A includes all properties east of U.S. 17, Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach. In other words, the major portion of hotels along the Grand Strand and those permanent residents who evacuated.

The evacuation went smoothly – no major traffic jams on the routes out and no sitting in an idling car on the highways for hours at a time.

I personally drove to Myrtle Beach at 11:30 a.m. yesterday morning along S.C. 22 and back just after 3 p.m. Traffic going west on S.C. 22 on my trip in was the heaviest I have ever seen on that highway and I have lived here 15 years before that road was built.

Although the traffic was heavy, it was moving slowly but steadily and the traffic at the on ramp from S.C. 31 was about one mile long but moving.

When I went home, going west on S.C. 22 at three o’clock, there was no traffic to speak of all the way to Hwy 90 where I exited.

I have been told by locals who travelled U.S. 501 and Hwy 544, the same conditions prevailed – heavy traffic moving slow but steady and gone by mid-afternoon.

All of this was accomplished with normal traffic flow – no lane reversals on any of the highways.

This is the second year in a row that evacuation in preparation for an oncoming hurricane went this smoothly.

What does all of this mean? We DON’T need I-73 to ensure a safe, smooth evacuation from the Grand Strand.

Last year, after Hurricane Florence, Seventh District Congressman Tom Rice asked Gov. Henry McMaster to amend the state’s request for hurricane relief funds to include $348 million in immediate funding for I-73.

A statement on Rice’s Congressional website announcing the request read,” I wrote a letter to Governor Henry McMaster urging him to amend his application to the federal government for disaster relief from Hurricane Florence to include immediate funding for I-73 as an adequate evacuation route. In the wake of Hurricane Florence’s devastation, and the ongoing, life-threatening risks it poses to our residents, funding an adequate evacuation route for the Grand Strand needs to be a top priority.”

Read more ›

Horry County Council at Precipice of I-73 Decision Wednesday

August 26, 2019 3:29 AM
Horry County Council at Precipice of I-73 Decision Wednesday

Horry County Council will decide the fate of its Financial Participation Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation at a specially called meeting Wednesday.

The agreement, which was signed by the county and SCDOT December 13, 2018, commits the county to provide up to $25 million per year for funding the Interstate 73 project.

The county does not have the money and the only sane step for council to take is to cancel the contract before it takes effect and SCDOT begins committing money the county does not have.

County officials planned to use revenue from a countywide 1.5% hospitality fee on prepared food and beverages, accommodations, admissions tickets and rental car fees to provide the $25 million per year.

However, that plan, hatched by former council chairman Mark Lazarus and former county administrator Chris Eldridge was fatally flawed from the beginning.

The countywide hospitality fee was enacted specifically, with the consent of the cities and a hard sunset provision, for the purpose of funding the short term projects listed in the Road Improvement and Development Effort report of October 1997 and approved by then Gov. David Beasley. I-73 was not included with those projects.

County council overstepped its bounds when it removed the sunset provision from hospitality fee legislation in April 2017 at the urging of Lazarus and Eldridge who specifically wanted to use the revenue for construction of I-73 when the RIDE bonds were paid off.

That first blunder was compounded by a second when the Lazarus/Eldridge tandem put a full court press on county council to provide up to $25 million of hospitality fee revenue for I-73 in July 2018 without consulting the cities.

A trifecta of blunders was completed when, one month before he left office, Lazarus effectively bullied council into contractually obligating itself to SCDOT for I-73 funding. This was only weeks after Hurricane Florence again demonstrated to county officials the desperate need for upgrades to roads and other critical county infrastructure already in place.

Read more ›

County Council’s Cursory Look at Imagine 2040

August 5, 2019 10:01 AM
County Council’s Cursory Look at Imagine 2040

Horry County Council recently approved first reading of an ordinance approving the county’s updated comprehensive development plan called Imagine 2040.

First reading approval took place at the end of a specially called workshop for council to receive an overview of the plan from county staff and to ask questions about the regulations. The entire meeting lasted for one hour eleven minutes, a cursory look at best by council members, only eight of whom attended the workshop.

It would be convenient to think that all the council members intently read and comprehended the entire over 400 page document and the 10 key areas identified in it, thereby needing little amplification from county staff. But, I don’t have that kind of faith in the 12 who sit on the dais.

Questions from council were very few and those few generally fit into the category of ‘what can I say to stop the emails I have been receiving from citizens with concerns about the plan?’

Counties in South Carolina must approve an updated comprehensive plan every 10 years according to state law. Too often, this has been a bureaucratic exercise to satisfy a bureaucratic requirement that, after approval, is relegated to the shelf until it is pulled down nine years hence for another required update.

As plans go, I have been informed by people whose observations I trust that Imagine 2040 is a decent one.

However, it is going to take an informed, involved planning commission and county council to even begin to make it work. Council chairman Johnny Gardner has often stated what we need is “smart development.” Imagine 2040 alone does not guarantee this.

One area of the plan that has drawn criticism from the public recently is a change, many call it a loophole, which would allow developers an easier route to approval of higher density development in areas designated as scenic and conservation.

The change to Imagine 2040 was made late last year after a rezoning request for what is called the Bear Tracts off of Hwy 90 was disapproved because this loophole didn’t exist. There is no reason to allow developers the option of disputing the designation of land as wetlands. One only has to look at what storms in the past several years have done to Polo Farms, Forestbrook and Aberdeen residential areas as examples.

Read more ›

I-73 Funding, the County’s Hidden Objective in Hospitality Fee Squabble

July 22, 2019 3:40 AM
I-73 Funding, the County’s Hidden Objective in Hospitality Fee Squabble

Hidden beneath an ever rising pile of complaints, answers, motions, injunctions and exhibits in the City of Myrtle Beach v. Horry County lawsuit regarding the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee is the determination of a core group of county council members, county senior staff and special interests to retain sufficient funding for the construction of Interstate 73 in the county.

This has been the objective since April 2017 when former council chairman Mark Lazarus convinced council to remove the sunset provision from the county’s hospitality fee ordinance. Lazarus’ stated purpose at that time was to provide funding for I-73.

The month after Lazarus failed to retain the Republican nomination for council chairman, he conducted a special meeting of council to dedicate the revenue from the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee to the I-73 project.

At that meeting, council approved two resolutions, 82-18 and 84-18. Resolution 82-18 dedicated up to $25 million of the revenue from the countywide hospitality fee to the I-73 project. Lazarus tried for the entire amount of revenue, approximately $43 million, but was argued down by council member Harold Worley who was holding out for $18 million to be dedicated to public safety and infrastructure needs within the county.

However, under county ordinance, all the revenue from the 1.5% hospitality fee collected by the county is placed into a special road fund. Resolution 84-18 directed county staff to prepare an ordinance amendment to allow that revenue to be spent on roads, public safety and infrastructure.

The ordinance amendment dictated by Resolution 84-18 has never been prepared to this day. County staff, with the unspoken agreement of a majority of council, ignored the will of council expressed in Resolution 84-18 so the revenue from hospitality fees cannot be used for public safety and infrastructure other than roads.

During a budget workshop in late November 2018, Lazarus led council in approving entering into a contract with the South Carolina Department of Transportation, called the I-73 Financial Participation Agreement, for the county to commit up to $25 million per year for funding the project.

Read more ›

Another Hospitality Fee Filing, Another Email, More County Lunacy

July 2, 2019 1:21 PM
Another Hospitality Fee Filing, Another Email, More County Lunacy

The City of Myrtle Beach filed a supplemental memorandum Monday in support of its lawsuit against Horry County’s continued collection of hospitality fees.

Leading the memorandum is an affidavit by North Myrtle Beach City Manager Michael Mahaney providing evidence of the county’s continued collection of the hospitality fee in the City of North Myrtle Beach after June 21, 2019, and supporting a June 26, 2019 motion by Myrtle Beach for the county to show cause why it was not in contempt of a temporary restraining order issued by Judge Seals on June 21, 2019 prohibiting same.

Included in the filing was an email originated by attorney Henrietta Golding who is representing the county in the lawsuit.

The email appears to have evolved out of the string of emails that were the subject of several media stories yesterday. The email that appears to have started the string was sent by former county council chairman Mark Lazarus to Golding.

In her email, Goldings criticizes the judge and the temporary restraining order the judge issued against the county for having “many errors”; states, “This is solely the fault of Myrtle Beach” and appears to discuss the county’s strategy in moving forward by saying the county will try to get a “supersedeas” and saying “if the county took steps to suspend the ordinance (creating the hospitality fee), then probably create legal issues detrimental to the county.”

Golding’s email was sent to Lazarus, county council members Johnny Vaught, Harold Worley, Tyler Servant and Dennis DiSabato, interim administrator Steve Gosnell, county attorney Arrigo Carotti, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley, Mahaney and Surfside Beach City Manager Dennis Pieper.

The choice of recipients is confusing as Golding only represents six – the four council members, county administrator and county attorney. Lazarus has no official position with the county since his term ended December 31, 2018. Hatley, Mahaney and Pieper support the position of Myrtle Beach that the county has been illegally collecting the hospitality fees since January 1, 2017 when the original sunset provision of the county hospitality fee ordinance expired.

Read more ›

Change Threatens as Administrator Interviews Near

June 24, 2019 3:48 AM
Change Threatens as Administrator Interviews Near

As public interviews loom for candidates for the permanent administrator position for Horry County, I sense a hint of panic in those council members who are pushing Steve Gosnell for administrator because they want to maintain the status quo.

They are the same council members who attempted to circumvent the administrator selection process before it began.

They are the same council members who stumped unsuccessfully to keep former council chairman Mark Lazarus in office.

They are many of the same council members who tried to excuse away the actions of former administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti when that pair concocted their fictitious story alleging wrongdoing on the part of new chairman Johnny Gardner.

These are members who try to get you to believe that ‘up’ is actually ‘down’, ‘stop’ is actually ‘go’ and ‘orange’ is actually ‘purple’.

Or, put another way, insist building I-73 is necessary while roads that have flooded in three of the last four years are ignored; new developments are okay even though infrastructure and public safety needs are lacking for development the county already has in place and planning future spending of tens of millions of dollars to continue to bury trash in the county is better than looking for reasonable alternatives.

These are the same council members who are afraid of change because it may upset their own personal, selfish agendas.

In the last few days they have found several shills to do their bidding on social media with one media outlet publishing an article claiming transparency in the selection process is a bad thing and a person in love with social media videos flip flopping positions on Gosnell based on false information.

All of the above is to be expected. Politics in Horry County is generally a full contact sport. If you’re not willing to figuratively shed a little blood, don’t get in the arena.

Read more ›

I-73, Indian Wells Controversies Highlight Council Agenda

June 17, 2019 7:11 AM
I-73, Indian Wells Controversies Highlight Council Agenda

The agenda for Tuesday night’s regular meeting of Horry County Council has only two items of consequence on it.

Under Old and New Business, council will discuss the Financial Participation Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation for the I-73 project.

The agreement has been in effect since December 2018 when it was signed by former administrator Chris Eldridge for the county after receiving council approval to do so. However, the real date for its beginning is the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2019.

Generally the agreement provides that Horry County will provide up to $25 million per year from Hospitality Fee revenues to fund the construction of I-73 within Horry County (the Project) and SCDOT will oversee the project from design through construction.

The written agreement states, “SCDOT shall provide an Annual Work Plan to the county on the activities proposed by March 31 that the county shall approve prior to June 30 before commencing work in the succeeding fiscal year.”

SCDOT provided a work plan for next fiscal year which allots $6 million for engineering services and $6.5 million for right of way acquisition. Council has yet to act on that work plan, but there is NO money in the upcoming budget to pay for it.

The plan was for Horry County to provide up to $25 million per year from 1.5% Hospitality Fee revenues collected countywide as funding. Since March 2019, the county has been sued by the cities over hospitality fee collections and there is no guarantee at this time how much, if any, of the countywide 1.5% fee revenue will be available to the county in the next or ensuing fiscal years.

However, Section V of the agreement, “Payments by the County”, states,  “The County shall maintain an account balance which shall be sufficient to cover the Project expenses for the relevant fiscal year including annual payments to the consultants, contractors or SCDOT…”

In addition, Section III D of the agreement states, “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.”

Read more ›

Mayors Add Confusion to Hospitality Tax/I-73 Funding Debate

May 21, 2019 7:09 AM
Mayors Add Confusion to Hospitality Tax/I-73 Funding Debate

After watching a video last evening of a news conference held in Conway yesterday by the mayors of the various incorporated municipalities in Horry County, under the auspices of the Horry County League of Cities, I was dumbfounded by the misinformation and political spin by those elected leaders to the public.

I do enjoy it when the mayors get together and issue statements under the League of Cities banner. The League of Cities is nothing more than a lunch club of the mayors and the chairman of Horry County Council if that official wishes to attend. It has neither official nor legal basis for doing anything, but it sounds good in the media.

The issue was hospitality tax collections in Horry County and who gets to keep the revenue beginning next fiscal year. The latest catalyst for this public discussion is a proposed bill dropped by the Horry County legislative delegation on the next to last day of this year’s legislative session.

Simply put, the bill, if it eventually passes, extends collections of a 1.5% hospitality tax countywide with the revenue going to Horry County Government. The cities and the county also collect an additional 1% hospitality tax within their respective jurisdictions for a total hospitality tax of 2.5% throughout the county. The tax has been on the books by county ordinance since late December 1996 with the proceeds of the countywide 1.5% portion being used to fund major road projects in the county under the collective banner of Ride I projects (SC 22, SC 31, US 501 improvements for example).

The initial duration of the tax was supposed to be 20 years with several additions through the years which extended payment on Ride I bonds through January 2019. Each of the municipalities in the county passed resolutions supporting the 1996 county ordinance.

In April/May 2017, Horry County Council, under the leadership of then chairman Mark Lazarus and administrator Chris Eldridge, unilaterally acted, with the rest of council going along, to remove the sunset provision of the hospitality tax ordinance that was to end the collection of the countywide 1.5% tax when Ride I bonds were paid off.

The idea of Lazarus and Eldridge was to use the approximately over $40 million annual revenue from the 1.5% portion to fund building of I-73 in Horry County.

Read more ›

Deep Six Secret Attempt to Hijack Administrator Search

May 15, 2019 3:22 AM
Deep Six Secret Attempt to Hijack Administrator Search

Only minutes after the end of the last regular meeting of county council during which plans for a search for a new county administrator were discussed, several council members moved to hijack the search.

According to information received from various council members:

Immediately after the close of the regular meeting: council member Harold Worley approached interim administrator Steve Gosnell about taking the permanent administrator job without going through the search process.

Being a single member of council, Worley had no right to circumvent the search process in this manner, but he did it anyway.

Worley contacted council member Johnny Vaught the following day, explained he had talked to Gosnell, brought Vaught on board with the plot and tasked Vaught to secure sufficient votes from other council members over the next few days.

While Vaught was contacting other council members, council member Gary Loftus contacted the county’s Human Resources Department telling them not to post the job opening for administrator as had been discussed before full council at the meeting. As a single council member, Loftus had no authority to issue such an instruction.

At the regular council meeting, Loftus made a motion to reconsider the vote to accept the separation of former administrator Chris Eldridge to add to it acceptance of Gosnell as interim county administrator. Loftus said this motion was made, “So we make sure that we follow proper legal procedure.”

After the motion to reconsider was approved, Loftus offered an amendment to appoint Gosnell as interim administrator “under short term contract to be entered into by the chairman on behalf of county council,” The amendment passed and the main motion accepting Eldridge’s separation and appointing Gosnell to interim administrator under short term contract passed.

On the dais in front of the public, proper procedure was the rule of the hour. However, proper procedure was ignored immediately after the meeting and in the next several days as this behind the scenes plot unfolded. And nobody bothered to contact the chairman until the plot was in motion and Vaught called Gardner to ask for his support.

Read more ›

County Attorney Reverses Stance on Eldridge Agreement Release

April 19, 2019 9:20 AM
County Attorney Reverses Stance on Eldridge Agreement Release

One day after denying Freedom of Information requests for the release of the termination agreement with former county administrator Chris Eldridge, Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti honored those requests.

What changed in 24 hours? Absolutely nothing!

Carotti tried to lay blame for the initial denial of release of the agreement on a claim that is was “confidential.”

This claim apparently rose from a “non-disclosure” clause that was included in the document.

The non-disclosure clause was never discussed in negotiations with the attorney representing Eldridge in the matter, according to council Chairman Johnny Gardner. Gardner said council was told it was a standard clause the county’s Human Resources department adds to this type of agreement.

But, the clause is illegal under state law. It not only violates the state Freedom of Information Act, but also violates state statutes with respect to public contracts and the expenditure of public funds. The clause also attempted to infringe on the First Amendment protections of free speech by limiting what council members could say about the agreement.

The termination agreement with Eldridge is a public contract. The severance package for Eldridge, agreed to by council, will be paid from public funds. State statutes specifically require public disclosure of such contracts and payments.

Carotti also claimed in an email to council members that he reached out to Eldridge’s attorney to see if Eldridge would agree to public disclosure of the document. Carotti claimed he received written permission from Eldridge’s attorney and released the document at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Let’s explore those statements.

Carotti claims to need approval from Eldridge’s attorney to disclose the agreement due to a ‘boilerplate’ clause in the contract that was never part of the negotiations. Rather, the clause was put into the contract illegally by the county’s HR department and then used to initially deny public access to the agreement.

Read more ›