Post Tagged with: "hospitality tax"

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.

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Horry County’s Embarrassing Special Meeting

March 26, 2019 10:12 AM
Horry County’s Embarrassing Special Meeting

Horry County Council proved during its special meeting last night it doesn’t need the county administrator or attorney to embarrass the county. Council did a fine job embarrassing itself on its own.

Two key items were up for a vote last night – not to renew the administrator’s contract upon its April 21, 2019 termination and termination of the financial participation agreement between the county and SCDOT for the I-73 project.

Council kicked both votes down the road.

There may have been some justification for not voting on the administrator’s contract because council chairman Johnny Gardner was contacted by an attorney representing administrator Chris Eldridge yesterday morning requesting negotiation of an exit package for Eldridge.

Gardner said he believes agreement can be reached on a termination package so Eldridge will depart county employment within two weeks.

Delaying cancellation of the I-73 agreement, however, is an entirely different story.

There is no benefit to the county and its citizens of keeping an agreement in place, the funding for which is a great mystery at this point.

However, the Myrtle Beach Chamber and its cronies were in full lobbying mode yesterday to keep the financial participation agreement in place.

Those council members, I’m thinking here of council’s Deep Six in particular, who are much more inclined to listen to the special interest lobbyists at the expense of the citizens of the county fell right in line.

Council member Harold Worley, the apparent leader of the Deep Six, was reportedly in favor of cancelling the financial participation agreement at the end of last week. Monday night, Worley was the foremost proponent from the council dais in maintaining the agreement and negotiation with the county’s municipalities on a new split of hospitality tax revenues.

In the past few weeks, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach have all passed ordinances whose sole purpose is to capture all hospitality tax revenues collected within their respective corporate limits.

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High Drama Surrounds County’s I-73 Agreement with SCDOT

March 14, 2019 2:55 AM
High Drama Surrounds County’s I-73 Agreement with SCDOT

High drama surrounded a recent decision by the Horry County Council Infrastructure and Regulation Committee to consider changes and/or cancellation of the Financial Participation Agreement the county signed with SCDOT last December for the Interstate 73 project.

Like many issues in the political arena these days, this one included its share of drama queens heightening and confusing the discussion while voicing veiled threats about possible state government retaliation should local government officials significantly alter or cancel the agreement.

According to local council members who spoke with Grand Strand Daily, Reps. Russell Fry and Alan Clemmons as well as former representative and current Myrtle Beach Chamber lobbyist Mike Ryhal quickly took to phone calls and texts when they heard of the planned I&R discussion earlier this week.

Their collective message, reportedly, was leave the agreement alone or face the possibility of the General Assembly altering current state law to remove control of hospitality and accommodations tax revenue from local governments in favor of control in Columbia.

Ever since July 2017 when former county council chairman Mark Lazarus and members of county government senior staff led council down the path to partial funding of the I-73 project by removing a sunset provision from the county’s hospitality tax law, this controversy has been inevitable.

Despite massive propaganda efforts through the years by the Chamber and a few elected officials about the necessity of I-73 to provide a connection to Interstate 95, local residents have remained unconvinced of the purported benefits of the project.

Many of those who cried the loudest – the Chamber, Clemmons and U.S. Congressman Tom Rice – have been collectively unsuccessful at acquiring funding for the project at the state and federal levels.

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Proposed Myrtle Beach Law Should End I-73 Funding

February 25, 2019 2:14 PM
Proposed Myrtle Beach Law Should End I-73 Funding

A proposed ordinance by the City of Myrtle Beach regarding collection and distribution of Hospitality Tax should end the I-73 funding agreement between the county and SCDOT that was approved late last year.

In the proposed ordinance, the city declares the 1.5% countywide hospitality tax passed by Horry County in early 1997 to have ended in 2017 when the county voted to extend the law beyond its original sunset provision.

The 1.5% countywide tax was used to pay off Ride I bonds. The last payment on Ride I bonds was made in January 2017, according to county sources.

With that final payment, it appears that the 1.5% countywide tax is no longer allowed by state law. It appears the county did not receive proper legal advice on its ability to remove the sunset provision and continue collecting 1.5% countywide.

Current state law allows counties to impose only a 1% countywide hospitality tax. Any more to be collected within municipalities must be approved by the municipality by resolution, which obviously is not going to happen in Myrtle Beach.

Myrtle Beach appears to believe it can collect the entire 2% local hospitality tax allowed by state law for its own use.

However, if the county moves forward to impose a 1% countywide hospitality tax, Myrtle Beach will probably end up with only the same 1% hospitality tax revenue it currently receives. Some legal wrangling between the two governments can be expected before this issue is finally resolved.,

While that legal wrangling is going on and until the county imposes the proper 1% countywide hospitality tax, the county will not be collecting enough funds to fully fund the up to $25 million that is stated in the Financial Participation Agreement it signed with SCDOT on December 13, 2018.

In addition, county council must understand the complete uses it can make of hospitality tax revenue and how much funding it can put toward things like public safety, existing roads and infrastructure, recreation facilities and storm water mitigation.

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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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Horry County’s Election Year Budget

April 2, 2018 5:09 AM
Horry County’s Election Year Budget

Horry County Council’s recent budget workshop provided an interesting view into budget making in an election year.

County employees will receive what is being called a “three percent across the board merit raise.” In a countywide election, the county’s employees can account for thousands of votes including their families and friends.

In addition, ways to fund additional raises for public safety personnel are being considered. Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus has proposed an additional $1 per hour raise for all Level 1, 2 and 3 police officers, Sheriff’s deputies and detention officers, which, if approved, will bring their respective raise amount to nearly 10 percent across the board.

Lazarus also proposed an additional three percent across the board raise (six percent total) for firefighters and EMS personnel.

The proposed public safety raise percentages were billed as necessary for “retention” of personnel, but it is interesting this consideration only seems to come up every four years or so when the council chairman is up for re-election.

Even more interesting is the fact that this increase in the public safety budget will not add any additional personnel despite the growing population of the county, which causes an increased demand for services.

Council member Harold Worley proposed using some of the excess hospitality tax revenue that the county will begin experiencing next year, currently estimated at $40 million per year, for increasing the number of police and fire personnel. County council already passed an ordinance stipulating continued collection of full Hospitality Tax after Ride I bonds are paid off.

Lazarus, who wants to use that money for I-73 construction, was heard to utter “not going to happen” at Worley’s suggestion.

One only has to consider the nearly $12 million of excess Ride II tax collections that recently was used to purchase approximately 3,729 acres of swamp land under the guise of establishing a wetlands mitigation bank in the county. That purchase literally came out of nowhere with little explanation to full council before it was approved.

If council is unwilling to return those excess tax revenues to the citizens who paid them, it certainly seems those excesses would be better spent on items that benefit the largest number of citizens rather than on the wishes of a few at the top of county government. The voices of average citizens need to be heard.

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Impact Fees Wrong Solution for Horry County Council

December 3, 2017 5:27 AM
Impact Fees Wrong Solution for Horry County Council

An old issue has again surfaced as Horry County Council is reportedly looking at ways to change the state impact fee law to help pay for the costs of development.

Twelve to twenty or so years ago this was a recurring issue council routinely discussed until it became apparent nothing would change in Columbia.

That discussion was interrupted by the collapse of the mortgage market and resulting depression which began in 2008 and which, now, the housing market appears to be finally recovering from.

The current impact fee law was effectively written to ensure impact fees would not be levied in Horry County. A primary sponsor on that piece of legislation was Horry County’s own Sen. Luke Rankin.

The builders, real estate agents and their attorneys do not want impact fees in Horry County and their lobby in Columbia has been strong enough, to date, to stop them.

New construction creates increased costs to provide local government infrastructure and services. Impact fees theoretically have those costs initially paid for by the new residents. Without impact fees, those costs are spread among all residents throughout the county.

Further limiting the ability of local government to meet the costs of providing new, as well as maintaining existing, infrastructure and services is the infamous Act 388 of 2006, which was vigorously supported by our county legislative delegation.

Much of the blame for any shortage of police officers, fire and emergency services, roads and other infrastructure lies directly at the feet of those we have been sending to Columbia over the years.

However, by looking to effect changes in the impact fee law, Horry County Council is also being shortsighted.

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Horry County – Myrtle Beach Land Deal

October 13, 2015 8:06 AM
Horry County – Myrtle Beach Land Deal

Horry County and the City of Myrtle Beach are investigating a joint purchase of the former Hard Rock Theme Park.

According to sources familiar with the talks, the reason for the purchase is to build additional sports fields for the sports tourism industry.

This is not a good idea on several levels.

Horry County and Myrtle Beach should not use public tax dollars for the purchase of land and construction of sports facilities for the tourism industry.

Horry County just raised property taxes by 7.2 mils (the maximum increase allowed by state law) for this current fiscal year ostensibly for pay increases and public safety improvements.

Now it not only proposes to use tax dollars to purchase land and build sports fields, but the purchase of the former theme park property by local governments would remove that land from the tax rolls, a double whammy for local taxpayers.

Horry County already wastes over $1 million per year funding the operations budget of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation. If this is such a good idea, shouldn’t MBREDC be able to recruit private business to purchase the land and build the facilities?

Myrtle Beach raises tens of millions of tax dollars, with its one cent tourism sales tax, that it turns over to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to use for tourism advertising. This is something that should be funded by marketing budgets of the private businesses in the tourism industry.

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Council Chairman Mark Lazarus Correct on I-73

November 14, 2014 4:00 AM
Council Chairman Mark Lazarus Correct on I-73

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus was absolutely correct recently when he said the proposed I-73 should not be included with RIDE III projects.

Lazarus was responding to comments made by local state Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-107) who is trying to keep I-73 in the discussion about what road projects will be paid for with local sales tax.

Clemmons continues to push the myth that I-73 will be a huge job creator for the local area, a myth based on a “faulty” study commissioned by the Northeast Strategic Alliance (NESA) several years ago. The myth was debunked by several other independent studies.

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