Post Tagged with: "Horry County Council"

I-73 Funding Remains Roadblock to Hospitality Fee Lawsuit Settlement

December 19, 2019 3:37 AM
I-73 Funding Remains Roadblock to Hospitality Fee Lawsuit Settlement

The question of funding Interstate 73 is the obstacle preventing settlement of the hospitality fee lawsuit brought by Myrtle Beach against Horry County earlier this year.

A proposed settlement agreement that was voted on Monday by the councils of North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, Aynor and Atlantic Beach as well as Horry County Council included a provision that one-third of the proceeds from a continuation of the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee collected by Horry County would be dedicated to funding I-73.

The five municipalities voting approved the agreement. Horry County amended the agreement, which necessitates a reconsideration by the five municipalities. Conway and Loris did not vote.  

City of Conway officials said in various media reports over the last day that they have no intention of voting on the amended settlement agreement to the hospitality fee lawsuit proposed by Horry County Council Monday night.

Properly looking out for the interests of its citizens, Conway City Council wants to reserve the right to use any hospitality fee revenue collected within its city limits to meet local needs in accordance with allowable uses of hospitality funds.

The refusal by Conway to vote on the agreement effectively kills the amended settlement agreement since one condition of the amendment was that the cities in the county, less Briarcliff Acres, must unanimously approve the amended agreement.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune tried to take the high road when the county amended the agreement, but she can’t. It was Bethune who summarily dismissed the county’s offer to settle the dispute in early April, long before attorneys began racking up large bills to continue the lawsuit.

The exact same conditions the county proposed in April became the conditions for settlement voted on Monday night, including the I-73 funding.

Attorneys representing Myrtle Beach negotiated with attorneys representing Horry County with the other municipalities essentially left out of the negotiations. The settlement agreement was presented to those municipalities, essentially as a fait accompli. Conway and Loris chose not to accept and Horry County Council members chose to amend it.

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County Council Adds More Controversy to Hospitality Fee Settlement

December 17, 2019 5:55 PM
County Council Adds More Controversy to Hospitality Fee Settlement

Horry County Council approved an amended settlement agreement at its special meeting Monday night that added to the controversy regarding settling the hospitality fee lawsuit.

Council split 7-5 on votes to amend the settlement agreement and to approve the settlement agreement as amended. Those voting for the agreement were Johnny Vaught, Dennis DiSabato, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftis, Bill Howard, Tyler Servant and Orton Bellamy.

The Deep Six (Vaught, DiSabato, Crawford, Loftis, Servant and Howard) can always be counted on to support anything the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber and other special interests in the county want. Vaught is counting on that group to fund his run for chairman in two years while DiSabato, Crawford and Loftis expect significant donations from special interests to fund their upcoming reelection campaigns.

The special interests want I-73, they fall in line to keep it in play.

Voting against the settlement were Chairman Johnny Gardner, Harold Worley, Al Allen, Danny Hardee and Paul Prince.

As Worley said at the beginning of open debate on the question, the elephant in the room was I-73.

The settlement agreement as presented Monday night would provide approximately $14.5 million per year toward I-73. As Worley pointed out this amount is a drop in the bucket for a project that will require approximately $670 million to complete the road in Horry County, $1.3 billion to reach I-95 and over $2 billion for the total project to the North Carolina border in Marlboro County.

But the drop in the bucket is important to those landowners in Horry County who will benefit from right of way purchases for the road and the engineering and other businesses who will profit from the early design and site work for the project.

The federal and state governments will have to come in with significant money for the road to ever be completed but the local special interests can realize a significant income from the early work that can be paid for if the county contributes. Like always, it’s all about the money.

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Questions Surround Proposed Hospitality Fee Settlement Agreement

December 15, 2019 7:32 AM
Questions Surround Proposed Hospitality Fee Settlement Agreement

As Horry County and the municipal councils prepare to vote on a proposed settlement agreement for the Hospitality Fee lawsuit Monday night, many questions remain about what really has taken place behind closed doors since the lawsuit was filed last March.

According to sources familiar with the settlement agreement, the basic proposal approved in a resolution by Horry County Council at its April 2, 2019 regular meeting and publicly rejected by Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune within a few days thereafter is the agreement that will be voted on Monday night?

The basic terms of that proposal as it was offered in April and will be considered Monday night are as follows: a) Horry County will continue to collect a 1.5% Hospitality Fee countywide; b) one-third of that fee (0.5%) will go toward funding I-73; c) the remaining two-thirds (1%) will be remitted to the respective taxing jurisdictions (unincorporated county or city) in which it was collected; d) Revenues from the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee collected between the date bonds for Ride I projects were paid off (sometime in February 2019) and June 30, 2019 will be remitted in a lump sum to the respective taxing jurisdiction in which those revenues were collected.

Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner sent a letter to each of the city mayors proposing that settlement on April 3, 2019.

The county was prohibited from collecting the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee within the city jurisdictions after June 30, 2019 by judge’s order. The sum collected within city jurisdictions between February 2019 and June 30, 2019 (currently held in escrow) and subject to lump sum payments back to the cities is approximately $19 million.

Why is a proposed settlement that was publicly and totally rejected by Bethune in April 2019 suddenly the terms for settlement? (See Gardner’s letter to the mayors and Bethune’s rejection letter at the links below)

The mayor’s main points of contention have not changed in the agreement to be voted on for approval Monday night: a) continued collection of the countywide hospitality fee is illegal; b) the city cannot delegate to the county the authority to control the disposition of revenues which are properly within the city’s authority to collect and manage and c) no benefit to city residents from that arrangement.

What has changed?

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Council Defers Four Mile Road Rezoning

December 11, 2019 12:06 PM
Council Defers Four Mile Road Rezoning

Horry County Council deferred consideration of second reading of an ordinance to rezone a parcel of land on Four Mile Road until its first meeting in February 2020.

The deferral was taken to allow the developer to discuss a stormwater runoff plan for the project with county planning staff that will address concerns of surrounding residents.

However, after listening to public input from both sides of the rezoning, those opposing it and the developer, and to questions from council, it seems obvious that requesting the stormwater plan is a delaying tactic.

While stormwater runoff has to be a consideration with any current or future development, especially when considering the flooding that has happened in the county in three of the last five years, it is not the central issue of contention in this particular rezoning.

The central issue is that this particular parcel is inside the boundaries of what is known as the 319 Area Plan, a plan adopted in 2011 whose goal is to protect the rural heritage of this corridor between Conway and Aynor.

The 319 Area Plan stipulates that single family housing requires half acre lots for each home built. The rezoning request is for quarter acre lots for 202 single family homes.

However, the current zoning for the parcel is commercial forest agriculture (CFA) a zoning designation that predates the adoption of and is grandfathered into the 319 Area Plan.

CFA zoning allows multi-family housing with a density of three units per acre for the gross acreage being developed. This means the developer can build, on this parcel, a total of 387 multi-family units without any approval from council required.

The 319 Area Plan cannot stop the multi-family development. The public input from those opposing the rezoning and questions from some council members appeared to demonstrate ignorance of that fact.

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Good or Bad Development on Four Mile Road?

December 8, 2019 3:44 AM
Good or Bad Development on Four Mile Road?

Horry County Council faces an interesting conundrum Tuesday night when it considers second reading of Ordinance 113-19, which is a request for rezoning a parcel of approximately 129 acres on Four Mile Road.

The rezoning requests a change from the current zoning of Commercial Forest Agriculture (CFA) on the parcel to SF10 (minimum lot size of 10,000 sq. ft.) for 202 single family detached homes.

The land is located near the Conway end of the Highway 319 Area Plan which was established in 2011 to limit the impact of residential development and maintain the rural character of the area.

The 319 Area Plan calls for minimum lot size of 20,000 sq. ft. for single family homes. The request was recommended for disapproval by the Horry County Planning staff but recommended for approval by the county Planning Commission by a 5-4 vote.

Some residents in the area expressed concerns about lot size, potential stormwater runoff and increased traffic from the proposed development. The residents were upset that the minimum lot size they expected for single family homes in the area plan was twice the size being requested by the developer. They felt the 319 Area Plan minimums should be adhered to.

In a perfect world the residents demanding adherence to 20,000 sq. ft. minimum lot size would probably win their point. However, zoning and development within Horry County is far from a perfect world.

The current CFA zoning would allow the developer to build three units per gross acre of multi-family housing with no approval needed from county council to proceed. The residents opposing the rezoning that I spoke with after one planning commission meeting were unaware of this provision in CFA zoning.

The developer stated in several meetings with the residents and planning staff that he was prepared to go forward with multi-family housing if the request for rezoning for single family homes was voted down, in order to protect his investment in the property.

Therefore, in opposing the rezoning because the requested lot size is only one-half of that in the 319 Area Plan, the residents in the area would see as many as 387 units of multi-family housing built on the parcel instead of 202 single family homes.

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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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