Post Tagged with: "Horry County Council"

Horry County Council Votes Unanimously to Cancel I-73 Contract

November 19, 2019 8:18 PM
Horry County Council Votes Unanimously to Cancel I-73 Contract

Horry County Council voted unanimously at its regular meeting Tuesday night to cancel the Financial Participation Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation that would have provided funding for the Interstate 73 project.

The agreement was approved by council during a special meeting held on November 28, 2018 and signed by former county administrator Chris Eldridge on December 13, 2018. Former council chairman Mark Lazarus led the charge to get the agreement signed before he left office December 31, 2018. Lazarus and Eldridge were the two foremost proponents of having the county enter into the agreement with SCDOT.

In addition, Lazarus and Eldridge were instrumental in orchestrating the elimination of a sunset provision from the county’s hospitality fee legislation earlier in 2018 in order to direct revenue to I-73.

But it all began to fall apart in March 2019 when the City of Myrtle Beach sued Horry County over continued collection of hospitality fees after the bonds for the first RIDE projects were paid off, an action the city called illegal.

Last spring, Horry County Council approved a resolution to refund hospitality fee revenue collected within the municipal boundaries to the respective cities where it was collected. The resolution included a proposal for the municipalities and the county to provide some funding for I-73 with percentage contributions from each agency in line with the percentage of the total amount of hospitality fee revenue each city received.

The cities dismissed that resolution out of hand.

Now, the cities and the county are considering a settlement agreement to the lawsuit with virtually the same terms with the exception that the cities will be on the hook to pay their attorneys 33% of the refunded revenue, approximately $7 million.

The blame for the cancellation of the I-73 agreement can be laid directly at the feet of Myrtle Beach and the other cities that joined in the lawsuit and refused to accept virtually the same settlement they are now considering.

Several county council members, including Chairman Johnny Gardner and council members Harold Worley and Johnny Vaught made exactly the point that the cities could have had the same settlement without paying such large attorney fees by accepting the resolution in the spring. It must also be noted the I-73 contract would not have been cancelled if the cities had taken this action.

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Seriously Flawed Settlement Agreement Proposed for Hospitality Fee Lawsuit

November 7, 2019 4:34 AM
Seriously Flawed Settlement Agreement Proposed for Hospitality Fee Lawsuit

The proposed settlement agreement presented to county council at its regular meeting Tuesday night appears to have many serious flaws, according to information gathered by Grand Strand Daily.

Council member Harold Worley vented his frustration with the settlement agreement during the council meeting. His complaint was having attorney fees of approximately $7 million come off the top of an approximately $20 million the settlement award if the lawsuit is settled as a class action.

The $20 million was collected from a countywide 1.5% hospitality fee collected between the date the bonds were paid off in February 2019 until June 30, 2019. Worley’s statement is based on a 1/3 contingency fee to be paid off the top of the settlement amount to the attorneys representing the cities.

The basic claim in the original lawsuit was that Horry County illegally collected a 1.5% countywide hospitality fee since January 1, 2017. The fee was collected with the agreement of the cities for an initial 20 year period beginning January 1, 1997, in order to pay off bonds issued to pay for the initial RIDE road projects.

The county first extended collection of the fee until the bonds were paid off and, later, in perpetuity. The cities allege they did not give approval for the extensions which prevents the county from legally collecting the fee in their respective taxing jurisdictions. However, the cities apparently dropped a claim for fees used to pay off the bonds between January 1, 2017 and February 2019.

But that money is not the cities to claim, a fact GSD first reported last spring when the lawsuit was filed. It is not the cities’ money. It is not the county’s money. It is taxpayer money.

 If it were held the county did illegally collect hospitality fees after the bonds were paid off, any rebates of tax revenue would be owed to the people from whom the taxes were collected, not the cities in which the fee was collected.

Hospitality fees are collected by vendors at point of sale and remitted monthly directly to the county in accordance with the provisions of state law. The cities are not involved in the collection process at all, nor is it their money being collected.

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Supreme Court May Address Merits of Skydive Myrtle Beach v Horry County et al Case

October 7, 2019 9:01 AM
Supreme Court May Address Merits of Skydive Myrtle Beach v Horry County et al Case

The S.C. Supreme Court notified both attorneys in the Skydive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County lawsuit that they have been afforded the opportunity to file supplemental briefs with the Supreme Court addressing the merits of the entire case.

The order, signed by Chief Justice Donald Beatty, was filed two days after a September 24, 2019 hearing of the parties before the Court.

The September 24th hearing was scheduled to address whether a claim by the county that the issue of the county’s eviction of Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB) from Grand Strand Airport in October 2015 was in fact “moot” as the county claimed.

Attorney Mike Battle, representing Horry County, told the court during his oral argument that the decision before the Court was of a very limited scope.

Evidently the justices don’t see it that way.

The order from the Chief Justice reads in part, “The briefs filed with this Court only address the issue of mootness. … this Court may wish to address the merits of this case. Therefore, this Court will afford each party the opportunity to serve and file a supplemental brief addressing the merits.”

The order goes on to say any supplemental brief must be filed within 30 days of the date on the order, September 26, 2019, and no briefing in response to any supplemental brief filed will be allowed.

The merits of the case have never been litigated.

The Supreme Court has heard arguments before it on two occasions regarding aspects of the case.

The first hearing, held last spring, dealt with whether the District Court erred in removing individual defendants from the case. The S.C. Court of Appeals upheld that decision but the Supreme Court reversed it and remanded the case to District Court for trial with the individuals included with Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports and Robinson Aviation as defendants.

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The County Debate over Unrestricted Rezoning

September 30, 2019 5:24 AM
The County Debate over Unrestricted Rezoning

An interesting dynamic has recently emerged in the debate over unrestricted rezoning and development within the unincorporated areas of Horry County.

The development industry is moving fast forward with an agenda designed to characterize anyone opposed to its desires to do whatever it wants, wherever it wants, whenever it wants, with respect to rezoning and development in the county, as disrupting the local economy and costing jobs.

Recent presentations during public input at county council meetings by business owners in the development industry are one indication of this.

Another is a recent article posted in a local blog (no, not this one). A prominent display of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) symbols included with the article attempted to set the tone of a faulty argument.

The article attempts to paint groups opposing any rezoning in the county as Democrats and/or environmentalists “stoking people’s fears to threaten office holders with eviction at the next election in order to finally advance environmentalism’s long-held goals of locking up private property from any future use at all.”

Prominently mentioned as such groups were the Coastal Conservation League, Horry County Rising, Highway 90 Corridor Concerns and Rosewood Strong. There are those in the development industry with personal grudges against some of these groups. That is not a good reason to mischaracterize their goals.

The writer, Audrey Hudson, may draw any conclusions she wishes, however flawed. But, even a cursory look at the mix of citizens in the groups opposing unrestricted rezonings in the county will quickly observe a large percentage in the mix are Republicans who voted for Donald Trump.

This issue isn’t about Democrats and environmentalists opposing “the GOP’s commitment to preserving the free market and protecting private property rights” as the writer suggests. It is merely about people wanting county elected officials to take steps to properly exercise the core functions of any government in order to minimize flooding and plan for infrastructure and public safety needs at least in concert with new rezoning approvals.

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Gun Ordinance Flop – Lesson in Local Culture

September 20, 2019 8:53 AM
Gun Ordinance Flop – Lesson in Local Culture

When Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato pulled his proposed ordinance tightening gun regulations within the county during a council meeting earlier this week, he may have finally learned a lesson in local culture.

That lesson? If you are going to call yourself a “conservative Republican” politician in Horry County, don’t mess with a person’s gun rights.

DiSabato reportedly introduced the ordinance, which would have essentially eliminated shooting east of the Waccamaw River and in Longs, in response to complaints from a few constituents in the Carolina Forest area.

The county already has ordinance restrictions on shooting within 300 feet of homes, schools, churches and commercial areas as well as restrictions against “reckless discharge” of firearms. DiSabato’s proposed ordinance would have expanded the existing restrictions.

Up for reelection next year, DiSabato may have viewed the increased restrictions as a means to secure his voting base in Carolina Forest. If so, it backfired.

Several council members reportedly warned DiSabato that opposition to the new restrictions on shooting would be unpopular.

According to a number of sources, council members received hundreds of emails from voters opposing the new regulations including a number of those emails from voters in DiSabato’s District Three.

Interestingly opposition was not only against the new restrictions themselves, but also against perceived government overreach in legislation affecting citizens’ rights.

Local activist Chad Caton was directly on point when he told council members during public input that they should be concentrating on the infrastructure needs of the county rather than attempting to limit 2nd Amendment rights.

The infrastructure needs of the county are serious especially in the areas of stormwater management, road improvements and public safety staffing.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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