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A look at Myrtle Beach

The coming budget year is going to be even rougher than last year in Myrtle Beach.

Last year, budget director Michael Shelton warned the city to keep expenses to a minimum, and it sliced about $33 million in capital projects and more than $1 million more from other areas of the previous year's $164 million budget.

He also told the city that this year would bring even harder decisions.

"Our revenue typically comes with a year lag," city manager Tom Leath said. "So this year is going to be tougher. We've told department heads to hold the line and they did a good job with that, but we're probably going to have to go deeper to balance the budget."

There will likely be even less in the capital improvements budget this year, and Leath said nothing is off the table, including cutting the merit bonuses employees received in lieu of raises last year, furloughs and layoffs.

He said he hopes it won't come to that. Shelton is putting together a budget proposal the City Council and department heads will discuss at a budget retreat at the beginning of April.

The news isn't all bad - Leath said indications are the city's going to see better tourism numbers than last year, thanks in part to the 1 percent sales tax for tourism promotion that started Aug. 1.

"I'm hearing from Coastal [Carolina University] and the [Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce] that the money being spent to market us is working and that tourism numbers are on the upswing," he said. "And the airport seems like it's adding a new airline a day."

But there are two markets here, he pointed out - tourism and real estate. The real estate market's going to take longer to recover, he predicts.

"It's a much tougher nut," Leath said. "We had an awful lot of inventory before the crash, and now we've got to wait for the rest of the country - our prospective buyers - to catch up."

Leath said people need to understand that recovery doesn't mean a return to the artificially inflated market of the past few years.

"We're talking about getting back to normal," he said. "The boom times were not normal. We need to lower our expectations."

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