Post Tagged with: "North 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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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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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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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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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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North Myrtle Beach Tourism Development Fee Crushed in Vote

March 7, 2018 4:06 AM
North Myrtle Beach Tourism Development Fee Crushed in Vote

The possibility of a Tourism Development Fee in North Myrtle Beach suffered a crushing defeat Tuesday at the polls.

The unofficial tally was 188 Yes votes for the TDF against 3,050 No votes. The results will be certified by the North Myrtle Beach Election Commission Thursday.

Defeat of the TDF is not surprising. What is surprising is the turnout. In the days before the election, I spoke with several seasoned political professionals from Horry County to get their predictions for turnout. They all agreed the number of voters that would go to the polls would range from 750-1,000.

Those predictions were based on past turnout for special elections in Horry County and tempered by the fact that candidates were not on the ballot, just a single referendum question.

To put the numbers more in perspective, a special election in March on a referendum question only drew a total of 3,238 votes. The vote for mayor in the November 2017 city general election saw 3,670 total votes with Mayor Marilyn Hatley winning with 2,765 votes out of 3,670 votes cast. In that same election, councilman Terry White ran unopposed and only gained 2,894 votes.

To call the number of votes cast on this referendum question astounding is to understate it. But, it may also prove to be the high-water mark of politics for the current city council.

The result is exactly what, I believe, North Myrtle Beach city council members wanted from the beginning, a resounding repudiation of the TDF in a referendum vote to take that issue out of the political discussion once and for all. Several council members were quite outspoken with op-eds and social media during the campaign about their opposition to the TDF.

In my opinion, a presentation about the TDF by Mike Mahaney at the Tidewater Homeowners Association on February 19, 2018, one that I personally attended, hinted at other, one could say even better, options for the city than the TDF. The entire North Myrtle Beach city council attended the meeting after the city issued a notice three days before that there was no city council meeting February 19th.

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NMB TDF Vote Today

March 5, 2018 6:30 AM
NMB TDF Vote Today

North Myrtle Beach voters will go to the polls tomorrow to decide whether a Tourism Development Fee will be instituted in the city.

I support the decision of the North Myrtle Beach City Council to allow this decision to be left up to the voters. Additionally, I support statements from council that, if passed, only the minimum TDF revenue required by law would be used for owner-occupied property tax relief with the majority of that revenue used to benefit all the citizens of the city with improved infrastructure.

The TDF was introduced to the state and this area in 2009. Since that time, it has been my opinion the TDF is used in Myrtle Beach to benefit the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, certain large business owners in that city and residents who live in high end homes.

The North Myrtle Beach approach is significantly different. The city is demonstrating it is not Myrtle Beach in the way TDF funds will be used if the referendum passes.

Since the recent North Myrtle Beach city council budget retreat, it appears city residents are in for some type of tax increase. A property tax increase of 2-3 mills was discussed by council at the retreat.

During presentations about the TDF, City Manager Mike Mahaney discussed the need to find a funding source to address parking problems around the city because public safety people are being tied up dealing with parking problems when they could be better utilized performing other duties.

If the TDF passes, city revenue from the fee could be the funding source for addressing parking problems, which would also benefit public safety by freeing personnel for other needs. Revenue for marketing North Myrtle Beach would be used to promote the North Myrtle Beach brand in order to maintain a strong economy in the city.

Mahaney said one mill of property tax brings in revenue of $375,000 to the city. Three mills, therefore, would bring the city an additional $1,125,000 in revenue for parking and other infrastructure.

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The Choice for North Myrtle Beach Voters

March 3, 2018 7:18 AM
The Choice for North Myrtle Beach Voters

Voters in North Myrtle Beach have a choice on Tuesday when they go to the polls to vote on whether or not to approve a Tourism Development Fee in the city.

Interestingly, the choice is not between voting the TDF up or down, although that will be decided. The real choice is how voters want to pay for infrastructure and other improvement needs in the city and who should be doing the paying.

From recent discussions at the North Myrtle Beach City Council budget retreat, it appears some type of revenue increase is in the offing for North Myrtle Beach residents.

According to information I have received, the North Myrtle Beach City Council discussed a property tax increase of 2-3 mills during their budget retreat earlier in the week.

A property tax increase would be paid only by the property owners in the city. The TDF would be paid by everybody, tourists included, who makes purchases in the city.

The TDF has the added advantage of providing revenue for targeted marketing of the North Myrtle Beach brand (cleaner, safer, family oriented) to tourists who are the lifeblood of the economy in the city.

I attended a meeting of the Tidewater HOA recently where the North Myrtle Beach City Manager made a presentation on the TDF.

Part of the presentation showed pictures demonstrating the need for more parking facilities in the city, an infrastructure improvement that increased revenue to the city will fund, according to statements by council. In addition, road improvements and continued staffing of public safety personnel were discussed as needs.

Another part of the presentation compared revenue increases available from the TDF versus the possibilities from something called the Municipal Tax Reform Act, which is only at best a vague hope to at worst a pipe dream in the minds of city council.

The Municipal Tax Reform Act is a bill that has been stuck in committee in the S.C. Senate for over a year and has no hope of passage in this legislative year or the near future. (You can see more on this in other articles I have written about the referendum.)

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