Myrtle Beach City Council looking to trim back grants to outside agencies

Myrtle Beach City Council is considering scaling back the amount of money it gives outside agencies, while making some preliminary cuts to the requests made from those nonprofits this year.

The city gives grants to outside agencies that provide services that potentially could be offered by the city, such as the Boys and Girls Club of the Grand Strand, and New Directions.

But the city received a bleak outlook for the upcoming budget year during an annual retreat in Pinopolis earlier this week and staff told City Council members they would have to make some tough decisions.

City manager Tom Leath suggested the city could stop giving funds to outside agencies completely to help balance the budget without imposing a proposed $125 membership fee for people who wish to use Chapin Memorial Library.

City Council members have said they will consider other options to avoid instituting the fee.

“It’s not your place to collect taxes and turn around and give it to charity,” Leath said.

Council members said they didn’t feel comfortable cutting funding to agencies who’ve received money from the city in the past, but would begin to scale back the amount that’s given.

The proposed budget allowed the city to grant $275,000 to outside agencies, down $10,000 from last year. That figure is determined by city staff members who look at the budget and estimate how much money the city can give in grants while being able to balance the budget, Leath said.

The city received requests totaling $784,519 from outside agencies.

Council members chose to grant money to 12 of the 14 organizations that it funded last year, matching the amounts given last year. Last year, the council initially matched the amount of money given the year prior, but ended up cutting 10 percent across the board to keep the amount awarded below the $285,000 budgeted for outside agencies.

Council considered making another across-the-board cut this year to meet the $275,000 allocation, but Councilman Philip Render said he didn’t approve of that approach. He said he understood that an across-the-board decrease was a sufficient way to reduce the amount of money allocated this year by the $10,000 that was needed, but didn’t think it was the best way to make the cuts.

“Let’s be legislators and go through and debate each item,” Render said. “We [are elected] to make the tough decisions.”

Council members made a preliminary decision during the retreat to not fund any agency that it did not fund last year, and not to fund the Children’s Museum of South Carolina or the S.C. Hall of Fame this year. Those agencies received $9,000 and $4,500 last year, respectively.

Council members allocated $30,000 to the children’s museum in March through the city’s accommodations tax committee, which gives recommendations to the council on organizations that enhance tourists’ experience while in town through arts and culture, Leath said.

All of the available accommodations tax money goes toward tourism-related city expenses, such as beach renourishment and monitoring, convention center marketing and public safety. Organizations go through the process for accommodations tax money, but those grants come from the general fund.

To qualify for an outside agency grant, an organization must prove that they are doing something with a public purpose, Leath said.

“A good example is the Boys and Girls Club,” he said. “If they weren’t providing [after-school programs] … if those kids weren’t there, it would put pressure on our recreation centers, which also offer after-school programs.”

Nanci Conley, executive director for the American Red Cross Coastal South Carolina chapter, said the organization has not received money from the city of Myrtle Beach at least since she began working there in 2006. The American Red Cross, which requested $20,000, was not included in City Council’s initial allocation.

“We’re a nonprofit that has to raise money locally to support the local services we offer,” she said.

Conley said the money would pay to train volunteers who help people in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties that are impacted by any disaster ranging from a single home fire to a hurricane. She said it costs $1,250 to supply a family of four’s immediate needs when they’ve been displaced by a fire.

“You never know when disaster could hit,” she said. “It could happen to any of us. … And when there’s a fire, the fire department calls us to assist the family. We’re partnering to meet the city’s needs.”

Conley said she was disappointed that the organization hasn’t received any money from Myrtle Beach in the past and was not included in the city’s initial allocations this year.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I’m at a loss.”

Councilman Randal Wallace said the city needs to communicate to organizations that ask for money that council members will begin to decrease the amount awarded each year.

Council members asked city staff to develop categories for the requested grants to help City Council next year when they plan to go through each request individually and determine how much money each should or shouldn’t receive.

For example, Councilman Wayne Gray suggested that agencies that directly impact people’s safety or well-being, such as the Rape Crisis Center, have more weight than some others.

City Council must approve a budget by the end of June and will continue to discuss funding decisions at meetings and workshops in the coming weeks.