Post Tagged with: "Myrtle Beach"

County Council Ends Eldridge Nightmare

April 17, 2019 6:34 AM
County Council Ends Eldridge Nightmare

The nightmare that has been the reign of county administrator Chris Eldridge ended Tuesday night when county council approved a termination package to end Eldridge’s employment.

The specific details of Eldridge’s package were not announced. However, it is believed to be in the neighborhood of one year salary, benefits and allowances or approximately $300,000 cost to the county.

And it is worth every penny to get rid of a poisonous influence at the top of county government who was unilaterally despised by county employees; who often confused his role as one of being in the middle of making policy rather than carrying out the decisions of others and who quite unsuccessfully attempted to disgrace current council chairman Johnny Gardner even before Gardner took office.

The vote was 9-2 to end Eldridge’s tenure, with council members Bill Howard and Tyler Servant the odd men out. Gardner did not vote as he participated in the negotiations of the package with Eldridge’s attorney.

Howard’s no vote was for reasons apparently only he can understand. Servant tried to play his ‘guardian of the people’s money’ schtick because of the size of the settlement, never considering how much more it would have cost the county in poor management and personnel decisions to keep Eldridge in place.

Immediately prior to the vote on Eldridge, council voted to defer cancellation of a Financial Participation Agreement with SCDOT for funding of I-73 while “aggressively pursuing” defense of the lawsuit recently brought against the county by Myrtle Beach over hospitality fee collections.

Among other pleadings in the lawsuit, the city requested a permanent injunctions against the county’s ability to collect a countywide 1.5% hospitality fee for its special road fund. A portion of that fund was to be used to fund the agreement with SCDOT.

In addition to the lawsuit, three cities, Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach have moved on to pass ordinances capturing all hospitality and accommodations fees collected within their corporate limits.

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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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County Says No to Secret Negotiations on Hospitality Fees

March 29, 2019 8:30 AM
County Says No to Secret Negotiations on Hospitality Fees

Horry County Council members have given a resounding NO to holding secret negotiations with representatives from the municipalities about hospitality fees and possible funding for I-73.

The City of Myrtle Beach proposed discussions behind closed doors by sending a confidentiality agreement to the county and the other seven municipalities in Horry County. The city is trying to couch any discussions on hospitality fees as a resolution conference with regard to the lawsuit it recently filed against Horry County over the subject. The city said S.C. Rules of Procedure Section 408 applies to the discussions.

In the very best interpretation of the city’s position, this is a stretch.

The city filed its lawsuit against the county claiming the county’s continued collection of the 1.5% portion of the hospitality fee beyond January 1, 2017 is illegal. The complaint was structured in a way that a class action lawsuit (municipalities v the county) could be requested.

However, to date no other municipality has joined the lawsuit and no judge has certified a class action.

Therefore, any negotiations that includes representatives from other than Myrtle Beach and Horry County couldn’t truly be considered a dispute resolution conference as it would include third parties not currently included in the lawsuit.

More importantly, any discussions about dividing public tax revenues or spending public tax dollars for public projects by public agencies should be held in the open.

What appears to have happened is Myrtle Beach jumped the gun on the hospitality fee issue. It hurried a city ordinance through two readings in order to capture all hospitality tax, 2% on just prepared food and beverages, allowed under current state law, collected by the city to remain in Myrtle Beach tax coffers.

Myrtle Beach next filed its lawsuit against Horry County claiming the original hospitality tax ordinance passed by Horry County with consent of the cities in late 1996 expired on January 1, 2017. The original ordinance placed a 2.5% tax on all accommodations, prepared food and beverages and tickets sold within the county. Of that, 1.5% collected countywide was specifically designated to pay off the bonds for the Ride I projects.

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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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County Council Defers I-73 Decision Until Next Meeting – Updated

March 20, 2019 5:26 AM
County Council Defers I-73 Decision Until Next Meeting – Updated

Update—————————-Update

John Bonsignor and I hosted North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley today on our television show Talking Politics. During the discussion with Mayor Hatley, I asked about the new North Myrtle Beach city ordinance keeping all hospitality tax collected in the city. Mayor Hatley said the city expects an additional $7 million annually from the hospitality tax.

I specifically asked Mayor Hatley if anyone had approached the city about dedicating some of the new hospitality tax revenue to the I-73 project. Mayor Hatley responded that she had received a call from Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune on that subject. 

Mayor Hatley said North Myrtle Beach would consider the request but ONLY if EVERYONE has some “skin in the game”. I inquired if “everyone” includes the state and federal governments and she said “yes.”
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Horry County Council members deferred taking any action amending the I-73 Financial Participation Agreement with SCDOT until the next regularly scheduled meeting April 2, 2019.

Issues with the agreement first arose when the cities of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach passed ordinances recently reducing hospitality tax revenues to Horry County thereby removing much of the anticipated money needed to fund the I-73 agreement.

Last week, members of the county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Committee tasked county staff with renegotiating two key areas of the financial agreement with SCDOT – delay of the start of any work under the agreement until January 1, 2020 and remove Section III(D) of the agreement which reads in part, “…“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.”

Members of the I&R Committee did not want to allow SCDOT to enter into any type of contract agreements without prior approval of county council.

As the agreement currently reads, county council only has prior approval on construction contracts.

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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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Myrtle Beach’s Unequal Application of Law

February 15, 2019 6:07 AM
Myrtle Beach’s Unequal Application of Law

One thing that has become consistent in the City of Myrtle Beach over recent years is the law will be applied inconsistently. It’s not what you do, it’s who you are that matters.

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution guarantee due process and equal application of the law to both federal and state jurisdictions.

But not in Myrtle Beach!

The city is currently being sued by business owners in the city for violating the owners’ rights guaranteed by the Constitution and those amendments with what the city calls its Entertainment Overlay District.

Inside that district, businesses are prohibited from selling legal products such as CBD oils and Vape accessories with the threat of having their business licenses revoked and the business being closed down.

Those same products are sold in other areas of the city without any restriction or harassment by city officials.

Most, if not all, of these businesses are beachwear stores owned by Jewish businessmen, which brings in other issues to the lawsuit in the form of violations of the Civil Rights Act and discrimination.

City officials have said these restrictions were put in place by city ordinance in an effort to make the district “family friendly” – the city’s favorite buzzword.

However, there have recently been three raids on two hotels within the same district for the sale of illegal drugs on the properties, you know heroin, cocaine and those types of drugs, with no threat to business licenses.

There is no indication that the owners or operators of those hotels were involved in the illegal activity, but that hasn’t stopped the city from closing down businesses as “nuisances” for similar activity in the past – Natalia’s Bar and Grill in the Superblock area comes quickly to mind.

Natalia’s was closed down by the city in December 2016 as a nuisance for activities such as drug sales that occurred outside the building but in the near vicinity. One month later, the city owned the property.

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Riptydz Shooting Mocks “Family Friendly” Zone in Myrtle Beach

October 8, 2018 9:32 AM
Riptydz Shooting Mocks “Family Friendly” Zone in Myrtle Beach

A tragic shooting in an Ocean Boulevard bar and restaurant early Sunday morning made a mockery of Myrtle Beach city council’s “family friendly overlay district” in the area.

Riptydz, the location of the shooting, is a “family friendly” establishment. We all know that because a statement released by the business said so.

It sits in the “family friendly overlay district” recently passed by Myrtle Beach city council and it does not sell CBD oil, hookah pipes, tobacco or sexually suggestive t-shirts, all banned products in the “family friendly zone.”

What it does sell is alcoholic drinks, a perfectly acceptable, non-banned product according to the city’s “family friendly” overlay ordinance.

According to reports of the incident, a fight inside Riptydz led to the fatal shooting of one employee. Fights in and around bars on Ocean Boulevard and at Broadway at the Beach are not unknown occurrences.

Fights inside beachwear stores caused by CBD oil, sexually suggestive t-shirts or hookah pipes have not been reported.

It is safe to conclude that alcohol, a family friendly product according to city council, causes more disturbances in the city than the banned products.

But, city council chose to ignore problems caused by alcohol, while going through mental gymnastics to blame beachwear stores, for a “non-family friendly” atmosphere along a section of Ocean Boulevard.

And council chose to ignore other areas of the city completely when discussing a “family friendly” product ordinance – CBD oil, hookah pipes and sexually suggestive t-shirts are perfectly legal products and sold regularly at Broadway at the Beach and Market Common, for example.

What is really behind the attack on the Jewish owned beachwear stores, the “family friendly” propaganda offensive and the choice to ignore alcohol as a potential factor in the fights and shootings throughout the city?

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Ordinance Unfairly Targets Downtown Merchants

August 31, 2018 7:05 PM
Ordinance Unfairly Targets Downtown Merchants

On Tuesday, Aug. 14, Myrtle Beach City Council voted 5-2 to approve new zoning regulations commonly referred to as an “overlay” for Myrtle Beach’s downtown Ocean Boulevard district. The overlay proscribes various categories of merchandise, which after Dec. 31 of this year can no longer be sold in the areas affected by the Overlay.

In so doing, at the stroke of a pen, city council rendered various businesses, perhaps dozens of businesses in the Ocean Boulevard district, either financially devastated, or (as of little more than four months from now) illegal altogether.

It’s worth noting that the same city council, at the very same meeting, also celebrated the Constitution. Your city council has designated Sept. 17-23 as “Constitution Week” in the City of Myrtle Beach, apparently without any ironic intent.

In the interest of full disclosure, I represent some of the downtown merchants whose lives have been up-ended by the passage of the overlay ordinance. I spoke on their behalf at council. But my feelings about council’s actions in this matter would be the same, whether I represented these merchants or not.

 The facts are rather startling: most of the downtown merchants only heard about the looming overlay a mere three days before council’s vote – and not from the city, but from various news reports published over the weekend. There was no debate. No give and take. Just a couple of days to get ready for a vote.

 At the Aug. 14 council meeting, there was a brief comment period where public comments were limited to a mere three minutes. And that process seemed more of a formality, really, one that belied the underlying reality that council had already made up its mind, and wasn’t really interested in what the public had to say. Some city council members were seen to be checking their phones during the public comments.

And make no mistake, government may move at its own pace in other quarters, but during public comment, three minutes means three minutes. Not three minutes and three seconds, but three minutes. Speakers were cut off mid-sentence, mid-thought, even mid-word. “Sorry” the Mayor would politely say, “your time is up”.

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