Council denies tax break, votes to collect hospitality fees past expiration

The 1.5 percent hospitality tax applies to admission tickets, prepared food and drinks and accommodations.
The 1.5 percent hospitality tax applies to admission tickets, prepared food and drinks and accommodations. jlee@thesunnews.com

CONWAY Locals won’t get a tax break once the road projects in RIDE I are paid off because the Horry County Council voted 9 to 3 Tuesday night to continue collecting the 1.5 percent hospitality fee indefinitely.

That tax was first passed in 1996 and is collected from food and drink sales, accommodations and admission fees.

The $38 million it raised yearly was intended to pay for S.C. 22 and portions of S.C. 31 and was set to expire once that debt is paid by 2019.

Councilmen in favor of keeping the tax in place said the money could be used to construct Interstate 73.

Those who voted to keep the tax after it’s expiration date included Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, Bill Howard, Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus, Cam Crawford, Harold Phillips, Johnny Vaught, Danny Hardee and Al Allen.

The three councilmen opposing the measure were Harold Worley, Tyler Servant and Paul Prince, who stated that the measure did not specify how the new taxes collected would be spent.

The taxes can only be spent on tourism-related items, a wide-ranging category that includes infrastructure, public safety such as police, sewer or water projects, beach renourishment, or buildings used for sporting or arts events.

“It can go to anything under the sun, sounds like,” Servant said.

The tax measure was not voted on separately, but as part of a broad package of 13 other items such as zoning maps, protecting sand dunes, and a regulation allowing the county to tear down unfit dwellings.

Prince tried to have the tax question voted on as a single measure, but his effort failed.

“I think the people need to know the projects that will be built, they need to know where the money will be spent before we approve it,” Prince said.

Lazarus argued that the money is needed for road construction, and that 65 percent of the tax comes from tourists.

“Tourists don’t just pay that, every time I go to McDonalds I pay for it,” countered Worley.

County Attorney Arrigo Carotti cautioned against limiting what future funds can be spent on to one item, such as infrastructure or police.

But Lazarus and County Administrator Chris Eldridge said the intention was to use it to connect Interstate 73 with Myrtle Beach.

With Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling Congress, a federal infrastructure bill is likely get the green light during the current session, and matching federal dollars are needed to build the highway.

Lazarus and Eldridge said that local funding needs to be in place to show that Horry County is serious about connecting the Interstate.

Even though the tax won’t expire until 2019, the county council needs to show now that their intention is to have the money in place.

“That’s the urgency, it’s political,” Eldridge said. “It makes the project viable.”

Sharon Pollard of Longs was the only resident who spoke about the measure before the vote, and pleaded with the council to end the tax when the RIDE I debt is paid and put the money back into taxpayer hands.

“We’re done with it, it has to end,” Pollard said.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson