State lawmakers approve amendment that allows local Horry County governments to pay for law enforcement with A-tax money

Myrtle Beach could have up to $2.3 million to help pay for additional law enforcement needs come next May.

The S.C. General Assembly approved an amendment last week that allows up to one third of accommodations tax returned to Horry County – or municipalities in Horry County – to be set aside to pay for public safety during events held in May.

Gov. Nikki Haley was expected to sign the budget into law Wednesday, having the option to perform line-item vetoes that could potentially strike down the amendment. The budget had not been signed as of Wednesday evening.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, included the amendment in the committee’s final budget package at the request of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the Horry County delegation, chamber President Brad Dean said.

“We had discussions the week prior with the business community and with local governments and when they say things happen at the 11th hour, this was 11:59 of the 11th hour,” he said referring to asking White to include the amendment in the budget recommendation.

Dean said due to the legislative session coming to a close last week, the amendment would be better received by the House if it came from the Ways and Means Committee chairman as opposed to another individual lawmaker.

The money would pay for the law enforcement to try to help get control of crime and violence that has occurred in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend. Thousands of people travel to the Grand Strand on that weekend annually to participate in Atlantic Beach Bikefest and Myrtle Beach’s Military Appreciation Days.

A request to allow up to one-third of destination specific funds that are allocated to the chamber to be used to pay for public safety was denied. That amendment would have generated another $2 million.

Eight confirmed shootings occurred in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend this year, leaving three dead and injuring seven others.

The city of Myrtle Beach allocates about 30 percent of money it receives in accommodations taxes to the chamber for marketing and promotion. The remaining money is used to pay for things such as police and the convention center. Dean said he estimates about $1.2 million of the accommodations tax money the chamber gets would be set aside for law enforcement.

In the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget, Myrtle Beach is expecting to receive $7.9 million in accommodations tax funds. If the city chose to, it could request the state withhold up to 2.6 million of that to be used for law enforcement in May.

In North Myrtle Beach, the city has budgeted about $3.3 million in accommodations taxes in its fiscal 2014-2015 budget. If they elected to use the allowance in the state budget, they would have about $1.1 million to use for additional law enforcement in May. But city spokesman Pat Dowling said that’s not something City Council has discussed yet.

“I’m not sure it would work for us,” he said. “We want to be supportive of Myrtle Beach and Horry County, but at the same time we’re looking at a different types of festival at this end of the beach than at that end of the beach.”

Some Myrtle Beach City Council members have said they hope to be able to use the additional money for law enforcement next May, though details still are being worked out.

“We’re pleased that the business community and the General Assembly acted so quickly,” Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said. “The city is still formulating specific plans for next year, but I’m sure that [money] will help to provide for more law enforcement. ... It’s good to have those extra dollars available as we look to increase the number of officers and support personnel on hand at the end of May.”

During a Tuesday Myrtle Beach City Council meeting, Councilman Wayne Gray proposed a 3 mill property tax increase – in addition to the 3 mills council already agreed upon – but other council members said they felt increasing property taxes was a premature move when a specific plan has not yet been put in place. A 3 mill increase is expected to generate about $900,000 in revenues.

Budget director Mike Shelton said because the county is reassessing property values – which it does every five years – the city likely will pass a budget amendment later this summer to adjust the base millage according to state law. It is possible for Gray to reintroduce the additional 3-mill increase at that time, when he said he hopes a clear security plan for next year is close to being finalized.

Any budget amendment needs to have a public hearing and pass two readings before it can become law.

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