Demand That Council Answer These 13 Critical TDF Questions!
by Thomas K. Herron (former owner/principle of major marketing firm)
Tragically, the Myrtle Beach “establishment” apparently believes that anyone who dares question the wisdom or value of the Tourism Development Fee (TDF) – in point of fact, not a fee, but an additional 1% retail sales tax – opposes tourism or growth in tourism or marketing, promotion, advertising and public relations. Nothing could be further from the truth. The TDF is a unique $multi-million beast … a bonanza in which Horry County is the only County that qualifies to impose it, Myrtle Beach is the only City that qualifies to impose it – and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is the only organization that qualifies to spend it.
The truth? All area residents and business owners want Myrtle Beach to be successful – but we have legitimate concerns about this particular tax and we both demand and deserve thorough oversight and full transparency by City Council. To accomplish that fundamental duty to its constituents, City Council MUST ask these questions before extending this huge tax for 10 more years.
1. Legality? Is it legal to tax some citizens to pay the taxes of other citizens?
2. Legality? Is it legal to use public funds for the direct benefit of individual businesses?
3. Impact? Has the additional 1% sales tax had any negative effects on tourism and/or other sales (we know for a fact that some businesses opened shell offices outside the City Limits to avoid the TDF)? Have locals and/or tourists chosen NOT to patronize Myrtle Beach because combined taxes, including the TDF, are higher than any other destination in the United States?
4. Jurisdiction? Can the City report with absolute certainty that NO business operating outside the City Limits is collecting the 1% TDF and, are any businesses outside the City Limits collecting the 1% TDF but NOT reporting it to the State?
5. Referendum or Council Vote? Other local governments including Horry County and the Board of Education, consistently ask the YOU, the voters, to support or reject any substantial tax increases (RIDE I, RIDE II, RIDE III; the 2008 School Board Referendum). Why does the City of Myrtle Beach even consider avoiding a referendum on the TDF?
6. Terms of Extension? Why would government at any level propose a 10-YEAR extension of a massive sales tax without at least first requiring a thorough accounting of spending every year? Why not consider passing a 2- or 3-year extension?
7. Campaign Contributions? The public must demand that no elected official or their campaign involved in the preparation, support or promotion of the original TDF (2009) or the Extension (2018) shall be permitted to accept even a penny contributions either directly or indirectly from ANY organization benefitting from the distribution of TDF funds (including the MBACC and its affiliates and members).
8. Marketing Audit? As important as forensic financial audit, City Council must require a professional, independent marketing review/audit to examine decisions made by the MBACC as to the effectiveness of its message and media strategies, its identification of target markets by geographics, demographics and psychographics; and to then insist upon ongoing research qualitative and quantitative research.
9. Actual vs. Virtual Tourism? City Council must require that the MBACC report fully and accurately not just “visits” and “click-thru’s” on a website, but actual daily, weekly, monthly & annual visitors to the City of Myrtle Beach and/or the Grand Strand (to ALL types of accommodations from hotels to motels to condos to campgrounds to tents).
10. Obvious Losses in Travel & Tourism? City Council must demand of the MBACC, or through its own, professional and independent audit, an accurate accounting of any change in the numbers of specialized tourism, including but not necessarily limited to:
Group Travel & Tours (Motorcoaches); Golf Travel & Participation; Entertainment (Theatre) Travel & Attendance
In the last 10-15 years or so, we have seen the demise of dozens of golf courses and theater/entertainment facilities that used to attract tens, or hundreds of thousands (or perhaps millions) combined. Closed Golf Courses include at least: Black Bear; Deerfield (2); Wicked Stick Golf Links; Cypress Bay Golf Club; Heron Point Golf Club; Waterway Hills Golf Links; Island Green Golf Club; Briarwood Golf Club; Wedgefield Plantation; Marsh Harbor; Ocean Harbor, Heather Glen Golf Links; Wild Wing Plantation (1 of 3). Questions persist about the financial stability of a number of courses purchased in deal consummated between the Chinese and former Mayor John Rhodes. Closed entertainment facilities include the Ronnie Millsap Theater; the Ice Palace; The Gatlin Brothers Theater; The Palace Theater; NASCAR Café; Planet Hollywood; All-Star Café; Hard Rock Theme Park; and Freestyle Music Park – to say nothing of The Pavilion.
11. How Much is Too Much? City Council must hire independent, professionals to determine HOW MUCH money is necessary to promote travel & tourism to the Myrtle Beach area. The passage of a TDF as a 1% increase in sales taxes generates a fairly predictable “$XX,000,000” millions of dollars – but the City/Chamber have never presented facts that indicate whether we need to spend precisely that amount, half that amount, or even TWICE that amount. No business in its right mind would use an arbitrary number & claim THAT is the precise amount required to successfully market.
12. Require RFPs? City Council must REQUIRE that the MBACC issue RFPs for the expenditure of so-called “out of market” advertising by only the most highly-qualified firms in the nation (the Chamber has pulled many functions in-house, effectively rendering them bullet proof from transparency and assuring they are not as capable as outside experts).
13. Cease Local “It’s Working” Advertising? Trying to convince voters that the TDF “is working” is a phenomenal waste of money (unless, of course, the intent is to re-elect incumbents who will support the TDF or to silence local media from reporting on the TDF, the MBACC or even the City government). Furthermore, claiming that “no public funds” are used for this purpose is patently, if not technically, FALSE! The question is: IF the MBACC did NOT collect $millions in TDF revenue, would it have any budget at all left to tell locals it’s working? Of course not. The public funds and the expenditure of “its working” through PACs a direct violation of the letter and the spirit of the law.