Horry County councilmen revealed plans for the first time Tuesday night to extend a 1.5 percent tax that could pay for construction of Interstate 73.
This hospitality fee was first passed in 1996, and comes from food and drink sales, accommodations and admission fees.
The $38 million it raised yearly was intended to pay for RIDE I projects including S.C. 22 and portions of S.C. 31, and officials expect to pay off that debt early by 2019. The fee only was intended to pay for road projects, not for other county spending.
The council aims to renew the fee now so that it can bypass a state law that only allows these taxes to be raised by one percent.
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The ordinance passed on the second reading with only one councilman, Harold Worley, objecting.
It will require a third reading and vote next month before the move is final.
No one from the public spoke in favor or against the proposal during the Tuesday public hearing.
County Manager Chris Eldridge told the council the money could be used for a number of tourism-related projects, including the interstate, completion of S.C. 31, beach renourishment or conference and equestrian centers.
“We have the cart before the horse,” Worley said. “We’re raising taxes on people before we know what we are spending it on.”
Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman, said there are no shortage of roads that need work. Lazarus also cited the interstate, and said the fee could be used for matching local funds that will be needed to obtain federal funding.
Interstate 73 is one of the biggest projects facing the county, Lazarus said.
Councilman Tyler Servant said the fee originally was passed to pay for roads, and that if it’s extended, he will make sure that continues to be the funding’s purpose.
Several councilmen including Cam Crawford and Al Allen questioned whether the money could be used for law enforcement.
Worley asked that it be used as a tax credit for Horry County residents on property taxes. He was told that could not happen until the debt was paid off, but that the council could consider a tax cut in the next few years, after the tax was made permanent.
The council is moving to extend the fee now, because the debt is being paid down quicker than expected, which was 2022 when it’s set to expire.
Eldridge estimated that of the money raised from the fee, 50 percent comes from food and drink sales, 40 percent from lodging and 10 percent from admission fees. He said that tourists were expected to pay for 75 percent of the funding raised.
While county officials are looking to set aside local funding for Interstate 73, federal lawmakers are working on matching funds that would come in the form of an infrastructure spending package from Congress.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham says he and U.S. Rep. Tom Rice are planning to ask for a $1 billion dollar infrastructure package for the state that would include funding for the interstate.
Graham appeared on WRNN’s Hot Talk Morning Show with Dave and Liz on Tuesday morning, and said that President Donald Trump is enthusiastic about passing a nationwide infrastructure spending plan.
Graham thinks support is there in Washington, especially if the package is tied to tax breaks to encourage Republican support.