MYRTLE BEACH — If he is ultimately elected as chairman of Horry County Council, Mark Lazarus said he wants to end his term and be able to say there isn’t a waterway dividing us.
He’s referring to the supposed divide of the Intracoastal Waterway, where those to the east and closer to the beach get all the benefits and perks, while those living in the rural, western part of the county are forgotten about.
“We are a big county, very diversified county,” said Lazarus, who has called Horry County home for 36 years and counts fishing and hunting as a few of his hobbies.
Lazarus said he wants to work with people who have served on other government bodies all across Horry County to work on bringing jobs and stopping what he sees as an unprecedented crime wave.
As for the local economy, Lazarus said one area that needs to grow is tourism to help get Horry County noticed as a year-round destination.
He feels the space at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center isn’t adequate, and the area is losing a good many conventions.
That convention center business, Lazarus said, can be grown if all government bodies work together.
Paul Edwards, general manager for the convention center, said the convention center is doing well.
Edwards said an expansion plan was in place. The city of Myrtle Beach would get money from the state to purchase additional property for the convention center to expand. Right now, it has 100,000 square feet of exhibit hall space and a 17,000 square foot ballroom.
The plan was to have an expansion completed by 2015, Edwards said. Now, he added, the city might have to take a second look at that timetable.
“We’re not in a good situation financially to make it happen,” Edwards said.
Occupancy at the convention center is in the mid-60 percent, Edwards said. He added that for a convention center to be at 100 percent occupancy, it would actually have to be in the 75 to 80 percent range. The rest of that time would be devoted to cleaning and setting up between events.
Growing tourism isn’t the only thing on Lazarus’ to-do list. He also wants more police on the streets to battle crime.
Lazarus said he reads every day where Horry County is rated as one of the highest crime areas, per capita. He added those studies don’t take into consideration the millions of tourists who come to Horry County annually.
“Petty crime is really on the rise, more so than anything, because of the economy,” Lazarus said.
Statistics from the Horry County Police Department show that all property crimes county wide in 2012 totaled 7,220, which is a 5 percent drop from the 7,562 in 2011.
From 2007 to 2012, overall property crimes are down 8 percent, noted Horry County Police Sgt. Robert Kegler. The highest was the 8,039 registered in 2008, the year of the economic collapse.
Violent crimes are down 15 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to HCPD statistics. The total number of violent crimes in 2012 was 1,167, which represented a 10 percent increase from the 1,059 in 2011.
Lazarus, who served on Horry County Council from 2003 to 2007, wants to tack those issues if elected, but not before setting up a committee of current and former county employees and council members to create a better working plan for county workers.
“We’ve got to get that team happy and get the morale up,” Lazarus said. The owner of Wild Water and Wheels added his years of hiring employees taught him it takes a great morale to keep the machine running.
Lazarus said the current County Council is made up of people dedicated to their communities. But what he said it takes is a leader who works well with them.
“The council chairman is one vote, but he sets the standard,” Lazarus said.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_bdickerson.