Late-night bars will have to pay additional fees and adhere to new business license requirements under an ordinance that received initial approval Thursday by the Horry County Council.
The requirements are the alternative to months of discussion by the council on whether to shut down bars in unincorporated parts of the county by 2 a.m., and are modeled after rules already in place by the city of Myrtle Beach.
New businesses will have to pay an annual fee of $250, undergo extensive background checks, and file safety plans with the county on how to prevent illegal activities on the premises.
Businesses already operating also will have to file safety plans, but will not have to undergo the checks and pay annual fees unless their operations becomes a nuisance.
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County officials say the new controls are needed to cut down on crime and more effectively regulate bars where illegal activities are occurring. However, they don’t want to impact businesses that are not magnets for crime that stay open late to cater to locals getting off work.
Michael Battle, a Conway lawyer hired as a special prosecutor to crack down on businesses engaging in illegal acts, spoke in favor of the new regulations and told council that one of his cases involved a 14-year-old girl performing sex acts on stage.
“That shows the depth or the lowness a business can go if you do not attempt to regulate,” Battle said.
Social media also is being used to organize parties in a matter of hours by independent promoters, who use colors to signal gang parties for Crips or Bloods that can lead to shootings, Battle said.
“You really don’t have a strong enough business license to regulate a business in a way that’s effective to help prevent the kinds of problems that come up when businesses become a public nuisance,” Battle said.
The only tool the county has at its disposal to close a nuisance business is through court action.
Law enforcement has to show evidence of wrongdoing, and if businesses are found guilty, they can appeal, leading to a lengthy process that costs upwards of $40,000 to prosecute, Battle said.
“In a business license revocation, you can require them to have cameras, and if they have a safety plan, you can see what’s going on,” Battle said.
The ordinance requires two more votes by council before it takes effect.