Horry County Council members kept their cards close to their chests Thursday after listening to a budget pitch from the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.
Only a couple of members asked questions and just one, Councilman Harold Worley, said how he felt about the EDC’s request to not take any of its $1.8 million annual funding back in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
After all, said EDC CEO Brad Lofton, it’s because of the county’s generosity that job hunters can report positive numbers for the past two years. “Thank you,” he said to open his presentation at the Council’s budget retreat, a refrain he repeated often.
“All the major progress we’ve made over the last two years is because of you,” he said.
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“Because of your five-year commitment ...” he began another sentence early in his appearance. “Thanks to you ...” “because of you ...” and “Your support ...” all played a part in Lofton’s opening minute or so.
Worley said he thinks the EDC can do without $1 million of its funding. The county needs it for other things, he said, and while he’s not against the EDC or the work it’s doing, the county’s pocketbook is not overflowing with cash just now.
Worley and some other Council members want to sit down with EDC officials to discuss funding and how jobs should be counted toward a benchmark of 500 the agency was to have created by June 30. The EDC says it counts 458 jobs created over the last two years. But at least some County Council members say their number is 251, the number of the 458 promised jobs that have been filled.
The jobs count this year will give the Council its only chance to unilaterally cancel or alter its five-year funding agreement with the EDC, county attorney Arrigo Carotti told board members. If they let the date pass without making changes, the county will be bound to allocate $1.8 million a year to the EDC for the next three years.
The only thing that can break the contract after June 30, he said, is if the EDC breaches the contract or if the county and the EDC agree to alterations.
Carotti said he believes that the “500 jobs created” agreement between the county and the EDC means that the jobs should be filled by people who are receiving paychecks for doing them.
Lofton reminded board members that the jobs it counts as created are bound by contract from the company that is to do so. Should the company fail to meet its job goals, he said, it will have to give back any county incentives it got to move or expand into Horry County.
“The good news,” Lofton said during his turn at the podium, “is our plan is working.”
Between 2001 and 2006, the county’s economic development effort was responsible for an average of 88 new jobs per year. The EDC has commitments for 458 in its two years, an average of 229 a year.
Additionally, Lofton said the EDC is working with 25 active prospects that represent a potential $1 billion in new investment and 5,000 new jobs. Should the county cut EDC funding by $1 million a year, as Worley suggested, work on reeling in those prospects would halt.
Worley said there probably aren’t enough votes on the Council for his position, but a $1 million cut would sure be nice. The county’s industrial park fund, the source of the $1 million for the EDC, won’t have the money to do so after this year.
Funding of $800,000 a year, he said, “makes a lot of sense. It would fund them and at the same time put the county in a good position.”