Show me the money: Surfside joins other local cities in wanting to keep tax dollars

Congressman Tom Rice talks about the I-73 road project

In an interview with The Sun News, Congressman Tom Rice talks about the I-73 project.
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In an interview with The Sun News, Congressman Tom Rice talks about the I-73 project.

Surfside Beach is the next municipality looking to bring extra revenue into their community at the expense of Horry County.

The Surfside Beach Town Council unanimously voted on the first reading of two ordinances Tuesday night that would would restrict the county from netting money the town gains from accommodations and hospitality taxes and reallocating the county’s share into the town budget. The council’s decision would result in the town collecting approximately $1 million annually, according to Town Administrator Dennis Pieper.

“What this boils down to is the town and who’s going to collect and allocate the funds and best manage those funds,” Pieper said. “So, my opinion is the town should manage the collections from these funds and determine the best use and allocations of these monies.”

Surfside Beach is proposing to collect its full 2 percent hospitality tax and 3 percent accommodations tax. Town officials believe the allocation of both accommodations and hospitality taxes will preserve the general welfare of the town and benefit residents.

According to the ordinance, the council determined both taxes are an economic engine for the town to fund tourism-related projects, services, buildings and maintenance, infrastructure, beach access, and police, medical and fire services. Revenue gained also will be used to fund water and sewer infrastructure, and highways, roads, streets and bridges providing access to tourist destinations.

Both Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach governments passed the first readings of similar ordinances last week.

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North Myrtle Beach is proposing to collect its full 2 percent hospitality tax and 3 percent accommodations tax, essentially doubling the money the city is splitting with the county.

City Spokesperson Pat Dowling said the council wants to keep its total amount of taxes earned, half of which is collected by the county, to increase revenue that can be used to enhance and expand infrastructure and other aspects impacted by tourism. If the two ordinances pass two readings, Dowling said the increase would result in tax collections of about $6.3 million annually.

Myrtle Beach officials said the revenue increase from both accommodations and hospitality taxes, which amounts to roughly $13.5 million, will be used to finance operations and maintenance, including police and fire services. The revenue also will be used to provide local funding for highways, roads, streets and bridges that will provide access to tourist destinations, such as the I-73 project.

The ordinance stipulates Myrtle Beach would now collect its 3 percent of the current accommodations tax and 2 percent of its hospitality tax. While the hospitality tax is decreasing by 0.5 percent, the accommodations tax will increase by the same amount. The admissions tax, which is levied on amenities like the SkyWheel and other tourist attractions that have admission costs, is decreasing by 1.5 percent to 6 percent.

While both Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach governments voted unanimously in support of the allocation of funds, county officials have signaled opposition, stating the decision could negatively impact funding for the I-73 project.

In June, Horry County Council dedicated hospitality tax money to public safety and I-73 funding. Of the $41 million the county gets from the tax, $23 million would go towards completing the Horry County portion of I-73 and the remainder would pay for public safety.

While he was not the county council chairman at the time of the decision, Johnny Gardner said if the county loses the money it gets from the tax, it would be near impossible to fund I-73. Horry County was expected to pay installments to complete the interstate for next 20 years.

Currently, 71 percent of Horry County’s hospitality tax revenue comes from North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said the city council will hold a special meeting Thursday morning proposing a comprehensive plan that will rationally address the funding needs for I-73 as well as the various needs of the city and residents.

“I-73 is crucial to our millions of visitors and to our businesses,” Bethune said. “It’s also a matter of public safety.”

Anna Young is the Coastal Cities reporter for The Sun News covering anything and everything that happens locally. Young, an award-winning journalist who got her start reporting local news in New York, is dedicated to upholding the values of journalism by listening, learning, seeking out the truth and reporting it accurately. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Purchase College.