Post Tagged with: "Myrtle Beach City Council"

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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Myrtle Beach Rejects Open Talks on Hospitality Fees

April 14, 2019 10:59 AM
Myrtle Beach Rejects Open Talks on Hospitality Fees

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune sent a letter to Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner last week rejecting public negotiations on a county plan for splitting hospitality fees.

Myrtle Beach wanted to hold any negotiations in secret using a lawsuit the city filed against the county last month over hospitality fee collection as the excuse for needing to keep discussions behind closed doors.

However, anyone who has followed local politics for even a short while understands the proclivity of local governments to conduct as much real discussion of issues as possible out of public view.

There is a very good reason for this. Often, the genesis of the issues kept most secret comes not from local elected officials, but rather from the special interests who have the ear of the politicians and who have been very effective through the decades pushing agendas that most benefit those interests.

The current hospitality fee issue dates back at least three years to the beginning of 2016. At that time, the projects funded by the Ride II tax were coming to completion. The hospitality and real estate interests began pushing the need for a Ride III referendum.

Informal talks between special interest leaders and local politicians developed a plan to promote passage of a Ride III referendum as well as continuation of hospitality fee collections countywide to fund I-73 construction within Horry County.

The special one-cent sales tax approved with Ride II and Ride III referendums pay for many projects that improve roads within the county that have become congested with traffic from new developments. These costs should be paid for directly by developers or impact fees rather than all the citizens of the county, but the hospitality and real estate lobbies have been able to avoid this to date.

The Ride III referendum was passed by voters in November 2016. County council removed the sunset provision from hospitality fee ordinance in the spring of 2017 at the behest of Lazarus, county administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti.

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The Demise of I-73

March 22, 2019 8:13 AM
The Demise of I-73

The City of Myrtle Beach effectively ended the possibility of any significant local funding for I-73 when it sued Horry County over Hospitality Fee collections earlier this week.

The filing of the lawsuit followed weeks in which city council passed an ordinance to capture all the hospitality fee revenue collected within Myrtle Beach corporate limits, said it may be willing to fund up to $7.5 million annually for I-73, then, completed this chain of events with the lawsuit.

One must possess a strong appreciation for the absurd to watch the Myrtle Beach council in action.

However, Myrtle Beach only provided the endgame for what has been a bungled process from the beginning with first Horry County and later Myrtle Beach attempting to save local funding for I-73.

It began in April 2017 when former chairman Mark Lazarus strong-armed Horry County Council to remove the sunset provision from the 1.5% countywide hospitality tax that was funding the Ride I bonds. Each of the municipalities in the county had formally agreed to collection of this tax within their corporate boundaries until the Ride I bonds were paid off.

Lazarus, assisted by county administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti, formulated a plan to move this funding source to I-73 when the Ride I bonds were paid off, an event that occurred in January 2019. However, none of the county trio thought to obtain formal agreement from the municipalities to support this plan.

After Lazarus lost the June 2018 primary for council chairman, his days to secure the deal became numbered.

In July 2018, Lazarus and his two staff cohorts worked county council to formally adopt a resolution dedicating all of the $41 million revenue from the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee collections to a special fund for I-73. Again, none of the triplets approached the municipalities for formal agreement to this plan.

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Sun Sets on I-73 Funding

February 28, 2019 6:41 AM
Sun Sets on I-73 Funding

Nearly two years ago Horry County Council voted to remove the sunset provision on the countywide 1.5% hospitality tax that was passed 22 years ago to pay for Ride I projects, in order to provide a long term funding source for construction of Interstate 73 within the county.

Two days ago, the sun set on the I-73 project when Myrtle Beach city council called BS on the county’s right to extend the tax beyond paying off Ride I bonds by unanimously passing first reading of an ordinance to keep all the hospitality tax collected within its corporate limits for its own projects.

Yesterday, word began circulating around the county that North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach would soon mirror the Myrtle Beach initiative by voting to keep hospitality tax revenues collected within their respective jurisdictions for their own uses.

Ending the county’s ability to collect a 1.5% hospitality tax countywide will force county council to immediately terminate a financial participation agreement it signed with SCDOT on December 13, 2018, to provide funding for the I-73 project.

It appears county council was seriously misinformed about its ability to continue to collect a 1.5% hospitality tax ad infinitum when it voted to end the sunset provision of the original law. As a result, available county funding for important initiatives may suffer a serious setback because of the greed of a few proponents of the I-73 project and the rush in which they moved to extend county hospitality tax collections.

According to state law, hospitality tax revenue must be spent primarily within the local jurisdiction in which it is collected.

State law allows for local governments to impose up to a 2% hospitality tax with counties able to enact a 1% countywide hospitality tax. However, the county cannot collect more than 1% within the municipalities without permission by the municipality.

Section 6-1-720(A) of state code provides: “A local governing body may impose, by ordinance, a hospitality tax not to exceed two percent…The governing body of a county may not impose a local hospitality tax in excess of one percent within the boundaries of a municipality without the consent, by resolution, of the appropriate municipal governing body.”

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Our Council Members as Sheep

January 22, 2019 4:56 AM
Our Council Members as Sheep

Year in and year out voters go to the polling booths in June for primary elections and November for general elections to vote for the candidates they want to lead their respective governments.

Unfortunately, local voters, especially those voting in Myrtle Beach City Council and Horry County Council elections, appear to be getting short changed in the leadership department because far too many of these elected officials defer to staff to determine policy.

And these policies leave a lot to be desired as council members act like sheep being led by senior staff members.

In Myrtle Beach, the city has decided to wage war on certain Ocean Boulevard business owners with a zoning overlay district that makes selling items such as CBD oil illegal in the district while allowing it to be sold everywhere else in the city.

It was announced recently that CBD coffee ads will air during the upcoming Super Bowl. CBD products are good enough to be advertised during the number one television event of the year, but can’t be sold in a certain area of Ocean Boulevard because the city doesn’t want the store owners to get business.

There is something very wrong with that calculus but city council doesn’t question what.

The targeted Ocean Boulevard stretch appears to be coveted because of its location and proximity to other city owned properties in and around the super block, a nice area that could be resold to a developer looking to locate, say, a casino complex.

But first the businesses in that location must be driven out and the buildings become available at the right price.

With three new members of city council and a completely redrafted ordinance presented for second reading last summer, this can’t be a council driven decision for members looking to get reelected. The only logical conclusion is that council members went along like sheep following the lead of the city administrator and his staff in passing this ordinance.

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Myrtle Beach City Council Hears Frustrations and Possible Solutions to Recent Violence

June 21, 2017 8:55 AM
Myrtle Beach City Council Hears Frustrations and Possible Solutions to Recent Violence

Myrtle Beach City Council hosted a raucous special meeting Tuesday with home and business owners voicing their outrage at recent shooting incidents on Ocean Boulevard and in other parts of the city.

It was a good move by city council, allowing the meeting to act as a pressure valve relieving some of the pent up frustration felt by citizens by having it voiced directly to council and city staff in a public forum.

That frustration ran from blaming city officials for ignoring the city’s problems and threatening defeat of the four incumbent council members up for reelection in November to calling for martial law to be declared in the city.

Many of the comments were rough and pointed, one citizen even asking John Rhodes if he would immediately resign as mayor. However, council took the criticism stoically because solutions are more important at this point than verbal jousting contests.

While many of the comments fell short of suggesting solutions for the violence problems in the city, several were on point.

Several citizens suggested using money from the one cent local option ‘tourism development fee’ (ad tax) to fund more police officers.

Former Mayor Mark McBride was most forceful in this line of thinking noting that the city’s police force had not expanded since he left office at the end of 2005.

To be fair, the city has installed over 800 cameras that are constantly monitored to help with public safety response and were very helpful during this past weekend’s incidents.

McBride called for 50 percent, approximately $10 million, to be redirected from the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s out of area advertising to funding additional police officers as well as providing raises for current officers.

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City Has Potential Nuclear Option in Parking Fee Issue

March 30, 2017 3:39 PM
City Has Potential Nuclear Option in Parking Fee Issue

The City of Myrtle Beach holds a potential nuclear option that could blow up the current parking fee debate between the city and Horry County into a much bigger and more explosive issue.

Nuclear options in political discussion come in various categories. One we hear about often is a threatened change in U.S. Senate rules that could effectively prohibit filibusters.

However, the nuclear option that Myrtle Beach appears to hold could change taxation for many residents within the county, both inside and outside the city limits.

A little background:

The city and county have been at odds over parking fees and areas they are charged in Myrtle Beach city limits.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus has addressed city council on several occasions attempting to reach some type of compromise that would allow county residents to pay $100 per year for a parking decal that would allow county residents to park at all city owned paid parking locations.

To date, the city has been reluctant to adopt Lazarus’ plan.

Personally, I don’t believe any of the city’s parking fees are justified, especially because they go to fund the Downtown Redevelopment Corporation, a notoriously underperforming enterprise.

In response to the city’s reticence, county council voted last week to not include $200,000 for the city’s planned museum/library complex and $30,000 specifically for Chapin Memorial Library in the county budget. The city requested both amounts.

At Tuesday’s Myrtle Beach City Council meeting, council member Mary Jeffcoat requested city staff to prepare a review of the amount of property tax revenue city residents pay to the county and what services city residents receive as a result of those taxes.

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RIDE III and Horry County Voters

October 27, 2016 6:18 AM
RIDE III and Horry County Voters

Horry County voters will be asked to tax themselves for another seven years for what is known as RIDE III.

The referendum question will ask voters to approve an additional one-cent sales tax for seven years with the proceeds going to road projects.

When the Capital Projects Sales Tax legislation was initially approved by the SC General Assembly over 20 years ago, its goal was to provide a funding mechanism for the Conway Bypass Project, or what we now call S.C. 22.

A one-cent additional sales tax levied for seven years to pay for the county’s portion of the cost of construction of S.C. 22 wasn’t a bad idea. The projects now proposed are in the “nice to have”, instead of a justifiable “must have”, category.

But, a tax once levied is a difficult thing to do away with and creative ways were found to extend this taxing ability to other jurisdictions.

Since the initial RIDE I project constructed S.C. 22, politicians have found (manufactured?) justifications to ask voters to make this a recurring tax in Horry County.

The politicians found this was such an easy sale to the voters that RIDE II was added in 2006, a one-cent sales tax for school construction was added in 2008 and the one-cent sales tax for tourism advertising was added in Myrtle Beach in 2009.

Of course, the tourism tax was never subjected to a referendum by voters because that would probably have failed at the ballot box. Instead, our local legislative delegation and Myrtle Beach City Council conspired to have that tax approved by a super majority vote of city council.

In my opinion, we have reached the point where one-cent local option sales taxes are out of control in Horry County.

This is especially true in the case of the tourism tax where citizens are forced to pay increased taxes in order to reduce the marketing budgets of Myrtle Beach hoteliers and golf course owners.

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Parking Fees Discussed by City/County Council Members

September 30, 2016 6:28 AM
Parking Fees Discussed by City/County Council Members

The parking fee issue in Myrtle Beach seems to get a little more convoluted each week.

Earlier this week, a group called the Beach Coalition held a meeting at Longbeard’s in Carolina Forest to discuss issues surrounding the parking fees.

Attending the meeting were county council chairman Mark Lazarus and council members Bill Howard, Jimmy Washington and Johnny Vaught. Randal Wallace from Myrtle Beach City Council was also in attendance.

Members of the coalition group are unhappy with the rather cavalier manner in which Myrtle Beach city council treats issues such as parking fees.

With regard to the fee itself, Lazarus said there is going to be a parking fee for county residents when they park in beach access areas.

Additionally, Lazarus said the fee has to be reasonable for everybody and nobody is going to pay $300 (for a parking decal). The $300 figure was thrown out by Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes at a recent forum held with citizens.

Lazarus said the city and county would establish a “steering committee” to address the issue.

Wallace said something had to be done about parking in beach access in the Golden Mile and surrounding areas. He seemed to blame the fee on litter finding its way to the properties of Golden Mile residents.

Wallace said maybe the $10 per day parking fee now being charged to non-city residents wasn’t the best answer to the problem. He said he was sure city council wants to work with county council to address the parking fee issue.

Wallace admitted to the crowd that all parking fees collected in the city go to the Downtown Redevelopment Corporation. For many years, the DRC has accomplished little in the way of redevelopment and virtually none in the city’s historic downtown in the area of City Hall, Five Points and adjacent areas.

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Myrtle Beach Parking Fee Lawsuit Pondered

August 11, 2016 5:46 AM
Myrtle Beach Parking Fee Lawsuit Pondered

A lawsuit against the City of Myrtle Beach for its paid parking areas along the oceanfront is being considered by property owners.

The basis of the lawsuit would be city violations of deed restrictions and covenants included in property transfers years ago.

Deeds from 1940 and 1968 in which Myrtle Beach Farms gave oceanfront property to the city include restrictions against commercial activity on the deeded property.

In the intervening years, some of that property has been converted to street ends and beach access on which the city now charges visitors to park.

According to a real estate attorney with considerable experience in the county, the deed restrictions do not go away on the portions of the property converted to public thoroughfares.

The deeds restrictions prohibit commercial activity by any “person, private corporation, municipal corporation or agency or instrumentality of government.” The land is specifically designated to be kept as a public park or common.

The city appears to violate these restrictions in several ways. The parking fees and fines are collected and disbursed by a private corporation contracted by city government. The city’s portion of the revenue goes to fund the Downtown Redevelopment Corporation, an agency created by the city.

The DRC is its own challenged organization, having accomplished little in the way of redevelopment and virtually none in the city’s historic downtown in the area of City Hall, Five Points and adjacent areas.

The DRC has set its sights on the oceanfront and rumored major new development projects that would first require the squeezing out of small business owners currently operating along sections of Ocean Boulevard.

Many have speculated that the parking fees in question will help squeeze out small business owners by limiting tourist traffic to their businesses.

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