Last December, in a last minute blitz as he left office, County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus worked a grand compromise among other county councilmen.
County Council would agree to sign from a $23 million to $25 million contract with SCDOT and, consequently, county residents would get $18 million of the $41 million in hospitality taxes to pay for firemen, police, and county resident needs.
THE SCDOT TRAP
It was a snare from the outset. Councilman Harold Worley, District 1, saw through the trap. His warnings to his fellow councilmen can be heard on the video below. He asked Lazarus to agree to secure the $18 million from Surfside, Myrtle Beach, and North Myrtle Beach first. He felt the SCDOT contract should be put on hold until the $18 million was secured.
You can actually hear the other councilmen and Chairman Lazarus snicker on camera at Worley’s warning. Lazarus jokes, “He [Worley] is smarter than he looks.“
In late February, the trap Lazarus set for county council was sprung. The City of Myrtle Beach announced it was terminating payments to Horry County its 1.5% hospitality fees. That announcement was quickly followed by Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach announcing the same.
70% Collected On The Coast
As Worley had warned, seventy percent of the tax is collected in those three cities. For those keeping score, 70% of $41 million is $28.7 million. That leaves $12.3 million for Horry County government to collect from the residents of Socastee, Garden City, Carolina Forest, Longs, Forestbrook, Highway 90, Conway, Loris, Aynor and other unincorporated areas.
The Myrtle Beach Squeeze
The city of Myrtle Beach then announced, it would contribute $7.5 million of its newly found monies, (approximately half of what it raided from the Hospitality Tax), to fund I-73. City leaders encouraged other cities and the county to do their part as well. Mike Shelton, City of Myrtle Beach Finance Director, said he believed the county should contribute at minimum over $10 million.
Realizing it no longer had the funds to honor the $25 million annual contract to SCDOT, a county committee publicly weighed the possibility of putting the contract on hold.
OUR LOCAL STATE DELEGATION DROPS THE HAMMER
While Senator Luke Rankin, Alan Clemmons, and Russell Fry have done nothing to secure state funding for the interstate, the calls to Horry County Council from this group began. The message: “Touch that SCDOT contract and face the repercussions.”
The repercussions the state can bring down on the county are many. The state can cut funding to our area. The state can pass laws eliminating the county’s right to pass 1% county-wide taxes.
Our own local delegation is actually holding county council hostage doing the city of Myrtle Beach tourism lobby’s bidding.
ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
While current Chairman Gardner and Councilman Orton Bellamy had nothing to do with this, they find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
Certainly, Councilman Worley did all he could to warn his colleagues. However, the choices now are to either force county residents to pay for the road with the 1.5% taxes collected in the county, or void the contract and face the consequences from our local state delegation.
County residents tell us they do not want to pay for this road. The road has two key benefactors, the tourism lobby and the Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors (CCAR). The latter will use the expressway to build thousands of rural neighborhoods, touting those homes as a 30 minute drive to the beach. CCAR will make billions exploiting a road paid for by county residents.