Post Tagged with: "infrastructure"

Horry County to Consider Alternate Hospitality Fee Proposal

April 2, 2019 7:01 AM
Horry County to Consider Alternate Hospitality Fee Proposal

Horry County Council will consider a resolution at its regular meeting Tuesday night that provides an alternative strategy for hospitality fee collections and expenditures within the county.

This initiative is in response to the recent actions of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach councils in passing ordinances to capture all hospitality fee revenue generated within their municipal borders in accordance with current state law.

The county’s proposal is to save the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee with $18 million of the proceeds dedicated to funding for I-73.

While the countywide proposal appears to raise in excess of $13 million more in revenue, the expenditure of $18 million toward I-73 would leave each city and the county with less actual revenue available to offset the ever increasing demands of offsetting costs of tourism to each entity.

By dedicating money specifically for I-73, the county’s proposal also falls short of addressing current needs for repair and improvements to U.S. 501, SC-22, SC-9, Hwy 90 and Hwy 905.

Both the county and the cities would see immediate benefits from addressing the needs of those five roadways as opposed to waiting years for completion of the portion of I-73 from I-95 at Dillon to Horry County.

Why should the citizens be told to ignore the needs of those roads before the next round of flooding hits the county, yet be excited about some future roadway that may or may not be built?

It is important to remember that neither the state government nor the federal government have appropriated any funds to construction of I-73.

There should be no rush by local governments to dedicate tax dollars to I-73 while the state and federal governments continue to provide none. The loudest proponents for I-73 funding are state Reps. Alan Clemmons, Russell Fry and Heather Ammons Crawford. At least they are the loudest in Horry County. It seems their voices become quite muted when they are in Columbia.

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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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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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Tilly Swamp Rezoning – What Next

November 23, 2018 9:32 AM
Tilly Swamp Rezoning – What Next

The rezoning for the Bear properties in the Tilly Swamp area failed to get second reading approval of the rezoning ordinance at the regular November 13, 2018 meeting of Horry County Council, but the issue is not decided yet.

The rezoning failed by a 6-5 vote of council. After the vote, council immediately took a break. According to sources who spoke with Grand Strand Daily on the condition of anonymity, council member Paul Prince, one of the 6 ‘No’ votes, spoke with several council members from the ‘Yes’ side during the break.

When council reconvened, Prince announced he was “confused” during the rezoning vote and moved for reconsideration. After receiving a second to the motion, the five remaining ‘No’ voting council members walked from the dais and left the council chambers leaving only six council members in the meeting at that time.

Council chairman Mark Lazarus has a conflict of interest on the issue and recused himself from the vote which includes leaving the council chambers during any discussion and/or vote on the rezoning ordinance.

Six members of council is not a quorum for conducting business, therefore no reconsideration vote of the rezoning ordinance could be taken.

The main issues of concern with the rezoning are lack of sufficient infrastructure to support nearly 1,500 new homes in the Tilly Swamp area as well as lack of sufficient police, fire and EMS services in the location.

Those issues were addressed by spokespersons for the approximately 250 members of the public who were present in council chambers demonstrating opposition to the rezoning ordinance. Those issues will not go away in the short term.

A vote on an ordinance can be reconsidered before the minutes of the meeting at which the original vote took place are approved by council. Those minutes will not be considered for approval until the December 18, 2018 regular meeting of council.

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Political Change Does Not Extend to Columbia

June 27, 2018 6:46 AM
Political Change Does Not Extend to Columbia

Governor Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson rolled to big victories in Republican Primary runoff elections yesterday meaning there will be no changes to the political power structure in Columbia.

Most of the incumbents in the General Assembly will be returning because they faced no opposition in the primaries or the upcoming November general election.

When voters continue to send the same people back to Columbia election after election, they can’t expect changes in the way state government operates. It is simple to suppose that special interests and lobbyists will continue to control the legislative agenda in Columbia at the expense of the average citizen.

Horry County will continue to be a large donor county to the rest of the state because our legislative delegation is so weak. Roads that should be paid for with state and federal funds will continue to be funded by local option sales taxes. The real estate and development lobby will continue to oppose impact fees satisfied that current citizens will continue to pay for infrastructure costs associated with new development.

One interesting sidebar to yesterday’s runoffs locally was the City of Myrtle Beach removed candidate signs from the areas near polling precincts in the city early in the day. According to several sources who spoke with the workers removing the signs, “the word came from City Hall.”

Whether this was an attempt at voter suppression or just another example of the arrogance that continues to emanate from city officials, it does seem to show complete disregard for the election process.

However, the citizens in Horry County will see some changes at the county level with the election of a new chairman for county government.

No longer will over 20 minute response times to 911 calls be acceptable to council while large pots of tax dollars are accumulated to build Interstate 73 through Marion and Dillon counties to connect to Interstate 95.

No longer will the needs of county departments be ignored because of personal animosities in Conway.

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Hyperbole Marks the Lazarus Campaign

June 5, 2018 7:30 AM
Hyperbole Marks the Lazarus Campaign

Reading the Mark Lazarus campaign mailers immediately brought to my mind Ronald Reagan telling Jimmy Carter “There you go again” during the 1980 presidential campaign.

The phrase has become part of the political lexicon to mean a candidate has entered the realm of hyperbole in his or her campaign statements.

The Lazarus campaign claiming $1 billion in infrastructure improvements in the county is certainly hyperbole, at least.

Most of that money comes from Ride projects and the new airport terminal.

County council has very little say in Ride projects. The process begins with an advisory committee which establishes a list of needed projects. That list goes to a sales tax advisory commission who establishes a final list that goes to county council.

Council may vote the list up or down, but it can’t make any changes to what the commission proposed. If council approves the list, it then goes to the voters in a binding referendum question asking whether an additional one percent sales tax should be levied on purchases in the county to pay for Ride projects.

The citizens are asked to approve additional taxes on themselves because a succession of councils and our state legislative delegation have allowed development to far outpace infrastructure improvements in the county.

If I have this correct, the citizens vote to levy extra taxes on themselves so Lazarus can claim he is responsible for infrastructure improvements.

Eddie Dyer, who served as chairman of both the advisory committee and sales tax commission, made the following statement about road conditions in Horry County when presenting council with $592 million in projects for Ride III:

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County Continues to Kick the Can Down the Road

May 30, 2018 8:41 AM
County Continues to Kick the Can Down the Road

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the editorial cartoon published by local cartoonist Ed Wilson on Facebook yesterday (pictured above) is worth an entire book.

The strokes of Wilson’s pen starkly captured the central problem with county government today. Serious issues (cans) have been kicked down the road for too long without being addressed.

The county’s public safety departments have suffered systemic problems from being ignored for too long.

Long hours, low pay and reduced benefits have led to low morale and high turnover resulting in understaffed public safety departments while the county population continues to grow creating ever larger demands for services.

There are many situations in which new personnel are paid almost as much, in some cases more, than officers with five plus years of experience. Even so, high turnover in the first few years of employment keeps the departments short of trained, experienced personnel.

According to many sources, the officers who provide our everyday safety needs are warned not to speak out publicly about issues within the departments or face reprisals.

The entire approach to public safety can be compared to sticking multiple fingers in a dike to, hopefully, hold off a deluge while continuing to turn a blind eye to attempting to plan a fix that would bring the departments to a more secure footing.

And public safety problems are not the only ones that have been ignored.

The heavy rains over the weekend caused considerable flooding in relatively new developments along Hwy 905 – again.

This seems to be a perfect example of allowing developers to rezone plots of land for residential housing, build and sell the houses quickly and get out with their profits before inherent problems in the area become known.

Even if rezoning requests were well researched and developed by county staff and council members, the pace of growth we are now again experiencing lets development seriously outpace the county’s ability to provide needed infrastructure and services to the new residents.

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Horry County Infrastructure Myths and Facts

May 14, 2018 3:23 AM
Horry County Infrastructure Myths and Facts

Infrastructure, especially roads, is on many minds as campaigning moves to the June 12, 2018 primary elections.

Some questionnaires being sent to candidates for various council seats include one or more questions about infrastructure planning.

Four years ago, Mark Lazarus promised voters he would “Fight for greater investment in new and current roads.”

In some of his early campaign statements this time around, Lazarus has pointed to the Ride III initiative and International Drive as personal successes.

This is misleading.

Council has little to do with the Ride projects. A prioritized list is presented from an independent committee to council on which it votes up or down for the entire list. Council may not make any deletions or additions. If council approves the list, and it always does, the citizens vote on a referendum question whether to adopt a one-cent sales tax to fund the Ride program.

As far as International Drive is concerned, if any current member of council deserves credit for keeping the issue moving toward completion it is Johnny Vaught. It was Vaught’s uncle, retired Lt. Gen. James Vaught, who initially addressed the need for International Drive and continued to push for the project from the early 2000’s until his death in September 2013. I can still hear Vaught addressing council several times on the importance of International Drive always ending with “Get it done.”

After Johnny Vaught was elected to council in November 2014, he picked up where his uncle left off in seeing the project to completion next month.

A recent Facebook video on the Lazarus campaign page touts on to greater infrastructure as it pictures the Farrow Parkway interchange with U.S. 17 Bypass.

This is an unfortunate choice of roads to feature as it depicts one of the more outrageous projects the county has undertaken.

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North Myrtle Beach and Tourism

February 14, 2018 4:15 AM
North Myrtle Beach and Tourism

The beaches and the upcoming Tourism Development Fee referendum in North Myrtle Beach have hit the pages of local media recently.

The beaches must be protected from the potential dangers of offshore drilling and they must be routinely renourished in order to keep tourism viable in the city, according to recent articles.

Many arguments against the TDF were enumerated in a recent op-ed by a North Myrtle Beach resident. Unfortunately, the writer was arguing against the example of how Myrtle Beach has chosen to implement the TDF rather than how it can be positively applied in North Myrtle Beach.

There is no question that tourism is the lifeblood of all the coastal communities along the Grand Strand. In many ways, North Myrtle Beach has set an example that the others should strive to follow.

The business community has done a good job of advertising with its own dollars, promoting the North Myrtle Beach brand as a safe, clean, family friendly location.

The city has added to this effort by providing quality public safety services, stormwater outfalls to keep bacteria levels near the beaches low and other infrastructure that benefits both local citizens and tourists alike.

Properly used, the TDF, if approved, could be used to supplement these private and public efforts to keep the city competitive in the family friendly tourism market.

According to state law, from the second year onward, the TDF revenues can be split 80% for out of area tourism marketing and 20% to the city for property tax relief and/or tourism related public safety, infrastructure and other similar projects. The decision on the split and how the city portion is spent rests solely with the city council.

It was proposed in the above mentioned op-ed that it would be nice to be able to apply all of the revenue from the one percent fee totally to public safety, infrastructure and the like.

In fact, this was attempted by a bill submitted by Sen. Greg Hembree last year (S.426). Called the Municipal Tax Relief Act, this bill proposed a one-cent sales tax on all taxable purchases in the city that would go to city coffers to offset some of the demands on property tax revenues.

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NMB Takes Proper Approach to Tourism Development Fee

February 1, 2018 4:39 AM
NMB Takes Proper Approach to Tourism Development Fee

North Myrtle Beach is to be commended on taking what many consider the proper approach to deciding whether to institute a tourism development fee (TDF) in the city.

City Council decided it was appropriate for the residents of North Myrtle Beach to decide whether a TDF is to be collected. Therefore, a referendum on whether to approve the TDF is scheduled for March 6, 2018 in a stand-alone vote.

The role of the city ends with the decision to hold a referendum. No government body, personnel or equipment may be involved in the campaign, according to state law. Individuals who are government personnel may only support or oppose the referendum question on their own time outside of government facilities and not as part of their official duties.

State Law Sec. 8-13-765 states in part, “No person may use government personnel, equipment, materials, or an office building in an election campaign,” and “This section does not prohibit government personnel, where not otherwise prohibited, from participating in election campaigns on their own time and on nongovernment premises.”

If approved, the TDF is a one percent fee charged on all purchases in the city to which state sales tax applies. Items such as food, rent/mortgage and medicines are exempted.

If approved, 80% of the revenue collected from the fee will be given to a marketing organization, usually the local Chamber of Commerce, to promote tourism from out-of-area locations. The remaining 20% goes to the city for things such as owner-occupied property tax rebates, public safety, parking and other infrastructure or similar types of city expenses.

From statements made recently to media, it appears the city will use the state mandated minimum (4% of the total revenue) to apply to property tax rebates to owner-occupied properties. The remaining 16% of revenues will be used for other city initiatives.

This approach is the best because it shares the benefits of the fee to the largest number of citizens, rather than keeping it for just a small percentage of the population.

A significant portion of the revenue will come directly from tourists and the city’s portion of the revenue can offset some of the costs to the local economy from the tourism industry.

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