Future funding for Horry County economic development a question in search of an answer

sjones@thesunnews.comJanuary 11, 2014 

With the success the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. has had in 2013, no one is suggesting that it’s funding should end.

But it’s agreement with the Horry County Council for $1.3 million a year only goes through fiscal 2015, and officials are already looking at where funding might come from for future years.

A referendum and a millage increase are among the possibilities being discussed.

The EDC and county had hoped to resolve funding for 15 years with a November referendum that would add EDC funding to a referendum for RIDE III road projects.

But that won’t happen, said Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.

Lazarus said that the state law providing for the RIDE funding requires that the county form a committee and establish a list of projects for a future RIDE referendum.

He said there is not enough time to form the RIDE III committee and get a list of projects approved for the November ballot. Additionally, he said that the law allowing the RIDE funding says that a referendum cannot take place in an off-year election, meaning that it wouldn’t be on the ballot before 2016 if it didn’t make it this year.

But beyond that Lazarus has doubts that anything other than road construction should be included in an extension of the RIDE program.

“I am afraid it would confuse the matter,” Lazarus said.

He said the council could extend the additional sales tax allowed by the RIDE legislation for seven years without a referendum to complete projects that haven’t been completed in the RIDE II program. The tax expires in May, and the county couldn’t add any new projects to the list, including funding for the EDC, if it extended the RIDE funding without a referendum.

The EDC wanted, as part of the RIDE III referendum, $60 million to fund EDC operations for 15 years and pay for the development of land and buildings. Of that total, $18.2 million a year would have gone to EDC operating costs for 15 years. Another $40 million would have gone for product development, or the acquisition of sites and buildings for new employers.

Brad Lofton, EDC CEO, said questions had already arisen over whether that potential tax money could be used to fund operations.

He also said that the proposed referendum would have included $12 million for a building that would have been home to a new call center. But since the announcement in December that call center operator StarTek is coming to Horry County and will build its own building, the item is no longer needed, Lofton and Lazarus said.

The 615 people StarTek plans to hire for its center puts call center employment in Horry at the saturation point, Lofton said. StarTek’s hiring when added to the number of people already employed at other local call centers mean that new call centers likely wouldn’t be viable in an area with Horry’s population.

Lazarus said the council will discuss the EDC funding at its next Administration Committee meeting. There may be other ways to fund it, he said, including a millage increase.

Lazarus said he’s not endorsing a millage increase, but said that a 1-mill increase in Horry’s property tax rate would raise $1.6 million a year that could be dedicated to the EDC. He didn’t think it would be feasible to consider a bigger hike, but noted that an ongoing $1.6 million could give the organization its operating money as well as additional funds it could use for land and buildings.

But whether it’s a millage increase or a referendum, the idea is going to have to be sold to voters.

Lazarus said he thinks the organization has a good story to tell.

The nearly 1,000 new jobs in 2013 alone will generate tens of millions in annual economic benefits along the Grand Strand, the EDC has said. More jobs would bring in more millions.

“(Selling a millage increase) could be a possibility with the record that’s been established,” Lazarus said.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

Myrtle Beach Sun News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service