Post Tagged with: "public safety"

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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Horry County’s Political Schism

July 22, 2018 9:22 AM
Horry County’s Political Schism

One glance at the agenda for Tuesday’s upcoming special meeting and workshop of Horry County Council demonstrates the political schism that exists in local politics.

Council will consider two resolutions that propose advisory referendums on the upcoming November 2018 general election ballot to raise countywide property taxes by 10 mils to fund police, EMS, Sheriff and E911service improvements throughout the county and one to raise property taxes by an additional 9.5 mils in the unincorporated areas of the county to fund fire improvements.

The entire discussion of these two referendums is nothing more than a knee jerk reaction to the defeat of incumbent council chairman Mark Lazarus by Johnny Gardner in the June 2018 Republican Primary for the nomination for council chairman.

One of the reasons Gardner won the nomination was his motto of “First Responders First” and his promise to take care of the additional needs of public safety departments in upcoming county budgets. It must be noted, Gardner never proposed tax increases to fund additional personnel and pay raises for first responders. Rather, he proposed prioritizing the needs of public safety during the budget process with current revenues and funds.

Over the last five years, Lazarus and council have basically ignored the increasing needs of public safety. After the voters made themselves heard by voting Lazarus out in June, it is all of a sudden a council priority necessitating a special meeting.

Being advisory rather than binding referendums, the results will mean nothing. The resolutions were first proposed by council member Tyler Servant at the June 19, 2018 regular meeting of council.

Servant said he was a strong fiscal conservative Republican who opposed tax increases, but proposed allowing the voters to make the decision. A true, fiscal conservative would first look to current revenues and funds to meet these needs and consider tax increases only after every other option has been considered and discarded.

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Johnny Gardner’s Campaign Message Spurs County Council Discussion

June 20, 2018 2:03 AM
Johnny Gardner’s Campaign Message Spurs County Council Discussion

One week after defeating incumbent Mark Lazarus for the Republican nomination for Horry County Council Chairman, Johnny Gardner’s campaign message is already driving council discussions.

Throughout his campaign Gardner spoke of putting “Public Safety First” and charging fees on new development to help pay for the impact it causes on county goods and services.

During its regular meeting Tuesday night, council approved two resolutions directly tied to those issues.

By an 11-1 margin, council member Tyler Servant opposing, council approved a resolution to encourage the South Carolina General Assembly to amend the current state Impact Fee law to make it more user friendly for local governments struggling to meet the costs associated with new development.

Later in the meeting, Servant introduced a resolution to instruct staff to bring back to council a proposed advisory referendum question to address raising tax millage to fund increased salaries and additional personnel for police and fire/rescue departments as well as an additional police precinct for Carolina Forest.

After discussion, it was agreed to split the issue into two referendum questions, one for police and rescue personnel and another for fire, because of the different ways in which police and rescue personnel are funded in the budget from that used to fund fire personnel.

County Administrator Chris Eldridge was instructed to meet with the the Police and Fire/Rescue chiefs to determine the increased needs in their respective departments to fully meet the county’s public safety requirements.

Council must approve referendum questions by the end of July in order to meet the August 15th deadline to have them included on the November 2018 general election ballot.

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Lazarus Walks Out of Burgess Forum

June 8, 2018 10:23 AM
Lazarus Walks Out of Burgess Forum

The key issue in the campaign for the Republican nomination for Horry County Council erupted last night at the candidate forum in the Burgess Community and council chairman Mark Lazarus chose to walk out of the meeting rather than discuss it.

The issue is the treatment of public safety personnel in particular and county employees in general. According to numerous sources from rank and file county employees, Lazarus, in coordination with senior staff, treats them like automatons to do as they’re told and face retribution if they ask any questions.

Below are three emails sent to the Johnny Gardner campaign and shared with Grand Strand Daily from rank and file first responders who are completely frustrated with the way they have been treated and ignored by county council and county senior staff. Messages like those below are sent to the Gardner campaign on a daily basis by different individuals:

“I’m sure the members of HCFR will support you but they truly fear retribution if things don’t turn out right. That’s how it’s been here. In the recent past about 2/3 of the supervisors at HCFR were transferred for no apparent reason. Also our Deputy Chief was asked to resign because he had a dissenting opinion from the Public Safety Director. So, in my eyes fear of retribution is real.”

“Thank you for recognizing our need in the fire rescue and police public safety side of things. Our departments have gone on too long operating under the good ole boy budget … thank you again for fighting for us, the public safety guys/citizens of Horry County, who only want our departments to serve the county to its fullest capacity!”

“I am a FF with HCFR, and I just wanted to let you know that you are very well appreciated and backed by myself, and just about everyone I know in the Dept. Can’t wait for June 12th to get someone on the council who sees the needs of the county as a priority.”

Questioned on treatment of personnel within the Fire Rescue Department by a former fire fighter who is now disabled because of injuries suffered from falling debris while fighting a fire in the county, Lazarus told the man “You are no longer a county employee, I am not going to answer your question.”

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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’s Election Year Budget

April 2, 2018 5:09 AM
Horry County’s Election Year Budget

Horry County Council’s recent budget workshop provided an interesting view into budget making in an election year.

County employees will receive what is being called a “three percent across the board merit raise.” In a countywide election, the county’s employees can account for thousands of votes including their families and friends.

In addition, ways to fund additional raises for public safety personnel are being considered. Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus has proposed an additional $1 per hour raise for all Level 1, 2 and 3 police officers, Sheriff’s deputies and detention officers, which, if approved, will bring their respective raise amount to nearly 10 percent across the board.

Lazarus also proposed an additional three percent across the board raise (six percent total) for firefighters and EMS personnel.

The proposed public safety raise percentages were billed as necessary for “retention” of personnel, but it is interesting this consideration only seems to come up every four years or so when the council chairman is up for re-election.

Even more interesting is the fact that this increase in the public safety budget will not add any additional personnel despite the growing population of the county, which causes an increased demand for services.

Council member Harold Worley proposed using some of the excess hospitality tax revenue that the county will begin experiencing next year, currently estimated at $40 million per year, for increasing the number of police and fire personnel. County council already passed an ordinance stipulating continued collection of full Hospitality Tax after Ride I bonds are paid off.

Lazarus, who wants to use that money for I-73 construction, was heard to utter “not going to happen” at Worley’s suggestion.

One only has to consider the nearly $12 million of excess Ride II tax collections that recently was used to purchase approximately 3,729 acres of swamp land under the guise of establishing a wetlands mitigation bank in the county. That purchase literally came out of nowhere with little explanation to full council before it was approved.

If council is unwilling to return those excess tax revenues to the citizens who paid them, it certainly seems those excesses would be better spent on items that benefit the largest number of citizens rather than on the wishes of a few at the top of county government. The voices of average citizens need to be heard.

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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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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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Mayor John Rhodes Hits New Low in Political Blame Game

October 30, 2017 4:10 AM
Mayor John Rhodes Hits New Low in Political Blame Game

Politics reached a new low in the current Myrtle Beach election campaign when Mayor John Rhodes trashed the firefighter who shot the video of the Father’s Day shooting on Ocean Boulevard during a recent mayoral candidate debate.

There is no doubt the mayor, city council members and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce panicked when video of that shooting went viral on Facebook. It illuminated Myrtle Beach’s dirty little secret that crime is on the rise in the city for all of America to see.

The Father’s Day shooting was not an isolated incident, regardless of how much city leaders would like you to believe otherwise.

During this campaign, Rhodes has blamed “fake news” for giving the city a bad image on social media, thereby, potentially hurting tourism.

But, Rhodes really sank deep in the mud when he defamed the man who took the video from a hotel room on Ocean Boulevard.

“The gentleman who took the film was a fireman that was here on a firemen’s convention,” Rhodes said during the debate. “He was a sworn officer that was supposed to respond to people in trouble and injured. He was so busy taking the film that he never did what his job called for him to do and that was to respond to injured people on the boulevard.”

Here’s how clueless Rhodes is:

It is nationwide policy that emergency personnel WILL NOT enter an active shooter scene until the scene is cleared and secured by law enforcement personnel.

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