CONWAY — Horry County economic development officials got a we-love-you-but-maybe reaction from members of the Horry legislative delegation Thursday night over a plan to raise $60 million for economic development over 15 years.
The plan, first unveiled at a meeting of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. last month, would extend the one-cent RIDE tax for road construction for 15 years, with 7 percent of the revenue to fund EDC operations, industry incentives and development of industrial sites throughout the county.
The money would build two buildings, a call center and a hangar, and other structures would be funded through private developers.
The final decision would be up to voters in a countywide referendum.
The legislators’ support of the plan is essential because the first step is a change in the state RIDE funding law to allow the tax to run for 15 years and to let part of it go to economic development.
None of the legislators thought the economic development plan was a bad one, but some wondered if it might work better if funded differently.
Rep. Mike Ryhal, R-Myrtle Beach, worried that the combination of roads and development on the same issue potentially could fail, cancelling hundreds of millions of dollars for roads.
He suggested it might be more palatable to reduce the years of funding from 15 to five in the referendum so that voters could see results as a portion of the plan was tackled.
“It’s easier to commit to five years,” he said.
He also said that perhaps Horry County government could fund $20 million of the $60 million that would go to EDC operating costs and industry incentives.
Ryhal said he already is getting a lot of calls about the plan, and while the EDC is promoting what will be done with the money, callers are focused on what hasn’t been done with economic development in Horry County.
Legislators acknowledged that current EDC officials, who have been in place just over two years, have had more success than any economic development effort in at least 20 years, and EDC officials said there will be more success in place to help sell the referendum.
Doug Wendel, past chairman of the EDC board, said that it would be likely that all projects on the plan’s list would be started within a couple of years so the EDC would need to know at the beginning that it would have enough money to pay for everything at the end of the term.
“All of it is critical,” Lazarus said.
“We need to understand how this would work,” Ryhal said. “Otherwise, it doesn’t sell (to voters).”
Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said he believes that the plan’s long-term approach to economic development is a good way to get things done, but he recalled the promise to end RIDE funding after the first seven-year funding cycle. He worries about voter backlash among people who would resent the third, and longer, RIDE tax.
But others reminded him that there would have been no RIDE two without voter approval and that it will end with that if voters turn down RIDE three.
“I have angst over mixing road infrastructure and economic development,” Clemmons said.
Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Horry County Council, was asked if a millage increase would be Plan B should the RIDE funding combination not work. He replied that the council is committed to seeking the EDC funding through a referendum.
But, he continued, a millage increase would be a new tax while the RIDE plan would extend an existing tax, suggesting that the former would be more acceptable to voters than the latter.
Current EDC board Chairman Fred Richardson said that he believes that combining the roads and economic development in the same referendum will broaden the base of support for RIDE and economic development.
He said that support for roads is often highly-localized, and voters who see no roads for them on the plan might be enticed to vote yes because of the number of jobs that promoters say will be generated with the other money.
In the end, he said, the EDC will take the plan to other groups around the county and let attendees help shape the end product. But, like Wendel, he said that it will be necessary to spend the money to attract jobs.
“When we bring a company in, we’ve got to show them something,” he said. “We’ve got to say we know what you want and we’ve got it over here.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.