Myrtle Beach council considers referendum on tax increase to build performing arts center

mprabhu@thesunnews.comSeptember 26, 2012 

— Would Myrtle Beach residents support paying $24 to $32 more per year in taxes help the city build a performing arts center?

That’s the question members of the Myrtle Beach City Council are thinking about posing to residents through a special election referendum this spring.

For years, the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center’s board of directors has struggled to raise money to partially fund a performing arts center adjacent to the convention center. At Tuesday’s City Council workshop, council members decided to table a resolution expressing support for the board’s fundraising efforts, deciding instead to consider a special election.

According to the resolution, the board planned to raise $2.5 million and was asking the city to commit to funding the rest of the project – once estimated to cost about $10 million.

“Our desire has always been to work with the city. This is the city’s project. It will benefit the city in every way,” said performing arts center board member Patrick Wayne Mumford during the workshop. “We view ourselves as being in this together.”

But the most recent estimate is about two years old and many council members said they did not feel comfortable committing to something when they didn’t know how much the city would have to contribute according to today’s market.

“What if they work and raise $2.5 million and a future council says ‘oh, we don’t have the money to kick in $6 or $8 million’?” Councilman Philip N. Render said.

Council members suggested the best way to guarantee the city could afford to pay for the center would be to ask residents in a referendum if they felt it should be built and if they’d agree to pay for it through an increase in taxes.

Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means suggested allowing residents to vote on the issue in March or April instead of waiting until November 2013.

“If it’s on the ballot with the council election and the mayor’s election, it’s going to get lost,” Means said.

City attorney Tom Ellenburg told the council it could take at least six months before a special election could be organized, and only after getting approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. It would cost about $5,000 to hold a special election in Myrtle Beach, according to city spokesman Mark Kruea.

The city tasked the board of directors with getting an updated estimate on the cost to build the center as a first step. The city would then to foot the bill or look to the board of directors for a private contribution before sending the request to the Department of Justice, Ellenburg said.

Depending on the total cost and if the city decides to pay for the building in full, residents owning a $200,000 home could pay between $24 and $32 a year over a 15 to 20 year period, Kruea said.

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.

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