Post Tagged with: "I-73"

Tomorrow’s Special Council Meeting, Gardner and the People v. DiSabato

March 4, 2019 12:33 PM
Tomorrow’s Special Council Meeting, Gardner and the People v. DiSabato

Horry County Council will hold a special meeting tomorrow to discuss the SLED report and the part played by Administrator Chris Eldridge in taking false allegations to SLED in order to prompt an investigation of Chairman Johnny Gardner.

It is obvious from the SLED report and lack of evidence of any wrongdoing, Eldridge tried to set up Gardner in order to advance a particular agenda.

What is that agenda? It appears to be to subvert the will of the tens of thousands of voters who put Gardner in office in order to effect much needed change in the way the county was being run.

The agenda includes attempting to guarantee construction of Interstate 73 while ignoring the infrastructure already in place. The recent flooding in three of the last four years demonstrates there is immediate need for improvements and flood mitigation on U.S. 501, S.C. 22 and S.C. 9 as well as needs for improvements on Hwy 90 and Hwy 905.

It includes ignoring the needs for increased staffing for public safety departments while pushing the purchase of $12 million of swamp land for some kind of half-baked wetlands mitigation scheme.

It includes alienating an overwhelming majority of county employees by mistaking the title administrator for dictator.

It includes picking a fight with Treasurer Angie Jones over the addition of one person in her office while costing the county more money in legal fees than would have been spent to fund the position as well as attempting to dictate to other countywide elected officials while only filling an appointed position.

It includes a half-baked scheme to extend the collection of hospitality fees to fund the I-73 project that the cities are in the process of destroying, thereby losing a potential source of revenue that could have benefited the citizens of the entire county by helping fund some of the above mentioned needs.

It includes never taking a serious look at how impact fees could be used in order to keep current residents from having to fund goods and services for new development.

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Horry County’s Flawed I-73 Agreement

January 28, 2019 4:50 AM
Horry County’s Flawed I-73 Agreement

The Financial Participation Agreement between Horry County and the South Carolina Department of Transportation, approved by Horry County Council November 28, 2018, appears to have many flaws not discussed before a resolution was passed allowing Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge to sign the agreement.

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.”

I find the use of the word “shall” interesting here in that it means a strong assertion or intention of something happening. Are we to take it to mean the county intends to approve the work plan prior to each June 30th? Does this mean county council really has much of a choice in the decision?

At least a half dozen times during the over one hour discussion about the project and the agreement county council members were told by then council chairman Mark Lazarus and/or county staff members, predominantly administrator Chris Eldridge and attorney Arrigo Carotti, that no money could be spent on the project without prior approval from county council.

To support those statements, Carotti quoted to council the first sentence of Section III (D) of the agreement which reads, “SCDOT shall not enter into a construction contract without the County’s prior approval based on considerations that the contract provide a meaningful connection to the proposed I-73 corridor in part or in its entirety.”

What Carotti did not quote were the next two sentences of Section III (D) which read, “The County’s prior approval shall not be required to enter into contract agreements for improvements to SC-22, provided the cost thereof does not exceed the estimates provided in the Annual Work Plan. 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.”

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County Council and the I-73 Rush

December 18, 2018 3:57 AM
County Council and the I-73 Rush

(Ed. Note – The following was submitted by Grand Strand Daily reader Sharon Pollard. Written in the same meter as the classic Christmas poem, it is a satirical take on the recent propaganda and county council vote for I-73 funding. There is considerable consensus among citizens that the desire for the road among Horry County politicos is only as a development expressway from the western boundary of Horry County to the beach, not an interstate highway.)

Twas the Week Before Christmas

Twas a week before Christmas when all through the council meeting,
not a lobbyist was stirring not even a greeting.

The agendas were placed as you come in the door,
full of information on the meeting and more.

The council were nestled and snug in the chair,
while visions of developments danced  in the air.

I and my friend had just sat in the back,
a long boring meeting good time for a nap.

When up in the front there arose such chatter
I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter.

Up to the front I flew with hope,
Grabbed the mic. took out my note.

The room on the crest of a new fallen deal,
Gave the people a sense this was not real.

What to my wondering eyes did I see,
plans for a new road to be called I-73.

With a call for a vote so lively and quick,
It passed 10-2 which made us all sick.

More rapid than rain from a storm they came,
As they whistled and shouted calling their name.

Now agents now consultants, now planners and all!
on dozers, on trucks, on cranes you can haul!

Now build away , build away, build away all!

As rain that comes from the wild hurricane blow,
Over the land for I-73 it will flow.

When they meet with an obstacle, build to the sky,
So up to the rooftops I-73 will be that high.

The speaker had dirt on his shoes and hair of white,
All knew what he said was not 100% right.

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Changing Focus on the County Budget Process

December 10, 2018 9:21 AM
Changing Focus on the County Budget Process

Horry County began its budget process for Fiscal Year 2020 with its fall planning retreat November 28th.

This was the beginning of what could prove to be a very interesting budget year.

Incoming council chairman Johnny Gardner pledged on the campaign trail, “Public Safety Priority One Day One” as his approach to the county budget process.

County staff heard a portion of that message. The early budget outline includes an additional approximately eight million dollars for public safety. That addition is based on what staff believes can be used from excess hospitality fee revenues after Ride I bonds are paid off early in 2019.

However, despite a county council resolution to use approximately $18 million from those revenues toward public safety, infrastructure and areas like recreation, staff has held firm to the $8 million it proposed last July.

Additionally, council directed staff to prepare an ordinance amending current county code pertaining to the funds received from what is known as the 1.5% portion of hospitality fee revenue that currently goes to pay off the Ride I bonds. Currently all of that revenue is deposited in a special road fund per county code.

To date, staff has not presented an ordinance amendment to change that designation to include public safety, infrastructure, recreation and the like.

This avoidance of acting on a resolution designating the will of council can only be attributed to at least certain members of county senior staff continuing to desire that all of the Ride I 1.5% money go to I-73, which was initially proposed to council.

Therein lies the basic contradiction in the county budget process – council directs, but staff does what it wants to.

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County Government Year Ending with a Bang

December 5, 2018 5:25 AM
County Government Year Ending with a Bang

Normally local governments are in a holiday lull between Thanksgiving and the first few days of the New Year, but that has not been the case this year.

Last week’s fall budget retreat for Horry County Council saw lively, spirited debate on providing money for I-73 and the Horry County Solid Waste Authority’s (SWA) proposed new Solid Waste Management Plan. The debates among council members were only opening salvoes in what I predict will prove to be two high profile issues in the coming year.

The vote of county council members last week gave county staff the go ahead to enter into a contract with SCDOT to plan for expenditures on the I-73 route in Horry County. There is absolutely no justification to commit $25 million per year, bond that amount for 20 years for approximately $350 million in operating capital, only to construct a road that will end around Hwy 917 and the Marion County line.

Unless and until the state and federal governments are willing to commit serious money, at least a combined billion and a half dollars to I-73, it is not a serious project and we should not be wasting county money on a freeway to the rural hinterland.

After nearly 30 years of existence, it is time for the SWA to understand it was created to manage the disposal of the county’s solid waste in the most cost efficient, healthy and environmentally friendly manner.

This does not mean continued, mindless expansion of the Hwy 90 landfill in an environmentally sensitive area and at an ever increasing cost to county taxpayers.

The SWA was specifically charged in its establishment ordinance “to develop an acceptable alternative method of solid waste disposal and to reduce the tonnage of solid waste disposal in sanitary landfills due to the County’s high water table and other geologic characteristics that make utilization and expansion of existing landfills and the development of new landfills especially expensive and difficult.”

The proposed plan calls for continued horizontal and vertical expansion of the existing landfill footprint with spiraling costs. It is time for council to conduct its due diligence before voting on the proposed, new plan.

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Hospitality Fee Alternatives to I-73 Agreement

November 27, 2018 10:00 AM
Hospitality Fee Alternatives to I-73 Agreement

When Horry County Council debates signing a funding agreement with SCDOT for I-73 tomorrow, there are several alternatives that should be considered before a decision is made.

As Grand Strand Daily stated in a previous article, all of the hype for I-73 is located only in Horry County. It is a given that any money designated for the project will come from Horry County only for at least the next several years.

In early calendar year 2019, the county will begin to collect Hospitality Fee revenue in excess of that needed to pay off the bonds that funded Ride I. The proposal before council is to designate approximately $25 million of that money to I-73 with SCDOT generally in control of how that money is spent.

Rather than purchasing rights of way and doing engineering design for a brand new road that may never be built beyond the borders of Horry County, why not look at using that $25 million per year toward road projects that could benefit Horry County citizens immediately upon their completion and certainly meet the standard of being tourism related?

One project that quickly comes to mind for study is raising the road bed of SC 22 between Hwy 905 and Hwy 90 to eliminate the flooding of that road that occurred during Hurricane Florence. One could even say this improvement will benefit I-73 if that road ever becomes a reality.

Two other projects that would immediately benefit both local citizens and tourists would be raising the road bed of SC 9 around Aberdeen to prevent flooding closure of the road such as has been experienced at least four times since 1999 and improvements to U.S. 501 in the Lake Busbee area to help prevent the issues Hurricane Florence and previous storms caused on that road.

Considering the designation of the excess Hospitality Fee revenue to any or all of the above three projects would have immediate benefit to citizens rather than wasting the money on purchasing rights of way and beginning engineering design of a road that may never be built.

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The I-73 Rush Is On for County Tax Dollars

November 25, 2018 7:20 AM
The I-73 Rush Is On for County Tax Dollars

The Horry County Council Fall Planning Retreat scheduled for Wednesday November 28, 2018 has an interesting agenda item regarding I-73.

Innocuously called “A Resolution Authorizing the County Administrator to Execute a Funding Participation Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation”, the agreement would provide DOT with Hospitality Fee revenue in an amount up to $25 million per year for things such as right of way purchases, engineering and construction on the proposed road.

While it is called a funding participation agreement, Section IV B of the agreement specifically states “SCDOT makes no financial commitment pursuant to this agreement.”

In other words, Horry County will be the only governmental agency providing funds for the I-73 project if this agreement is signed. Horry County officials often complain about being a “donor” county to the State Treasury. Yet, in this agreement, they would consent to sending even more county tax revenue to Columbia.

Proponents of this agreement have argued that I-73 is an important road to Horry County and that the Hospitality Fee revenue will only fund right of way purchases, engineering and construction for the Horry County section of the road, which ends in the vicinity of Hwy 917 at the Marion County line.

There is absolutely no economic benefit nor evacuation benefit Horry County citizens will receive from a road that ends in that rural section of Horry County.

Marion and Dillon counties, the other two counties in the Southern Corridor of the proposed I-73 to Interstate 95, are in no position to spend even one dollar of tax revenue toward the project. The only way construction of the road is going to be funded through those counties is with state and federal tax dollars.

Grand Strand Daily has spoken with legislators around the state over the past several months regarding funding for I-73 from Columbia. The only conclusion that can be drawn from these conversations is that the SC General Assembly has no plans to provide funding in the near term future for construction of I-73.

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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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County Council’s Phony Tax Referendum

July 10, 2018 1:32 PM
County Council’s Phony Tax Referendum

Horry County Council is expected to have a discussion next week about placing an advisory referendum on the November 2018 general election ballot regarding tax increases for public safety.

The issue was proposed by council member Tyler Servant at last month’s council meeting. Acknowledging the main topic of the primary election which cost council chairman Mark Lazarus nomination to another term in office, Servant said he was opposed to raising taxes but believed the voters should have a say on whether they wanted to pay higher taxes to increase public safety services in the county.

Council members Dennis DiSabato and Cam Crawford jumped on the bandwagon, acknowledging a need for more public safety personnel and facilities in the county but saying the voters should make the decision.

The discussion will be a waste of time as an advisory referendum will not solve the problem of funding for public safety needs. Regardless of how the referendum is worded and what percentage of the vote it may receive, an advisory binds the council to no action and, furthermore, does not provide permission from voters to raise taxes above the limits of Act 388.

The proposal for a discussion and resolution vote to place the advisory referendum on the ballot appears to be an attempt to divert the discussion from various alternatives for public safety funding to a possible tax increase.

Republican chairman nominee Johnny Gardner, who defeated Lazarus in the June primary voting, never mentioned raising taxes while he campaigned on increasing public safety personnel numbers and pay throughout the county.

Gardner said the current 20 ½ minutes average elapsed time it takes from when a 911 call is answered until a first responder arrives on the scene is unacceptable. Gardner pledged to make public safety funding priority one in the budget process.

At times, when extra sources of tax dollars become available, public safety staffing is never on the radar of most council members and county staff.

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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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