I-73 funding depends on local municipalities working through tax allocations
Horry County Council on Tuesday took a step towards keeping its contract with the S.C. Department of Transportation to build part of I-73 despite a legal showdown pending between the City of Myrtle Beach and the county.
The council hopes to have the lawsuit settled before taking a second vote to move forward on the billion-dollar project.
On March 20, Myrtle Beach filed a lawsuit against Horry claiming the county unlawfully collected the hospitality fee and devoted funds to the construction of I-73 without the city’s consent.
Council addressed the lawsuit in its motion.
“… direct the administrator … to move forward vigorously and expeditiously defending the litigation filed by the city of Myrtle Beach,” the approved motion read.
Three members of the public, all involved in the tourism industry, said they hope the county and the municipalities stick it out until a deal is reached.
“Things don’t look great right now, but it’s too early to cut and run,” said Matthew Brittain of Brittain Resorts. “Rescinding the agreement at this point will not give it adequate time and space for thinking it through.”
Hotel owners Steve Chapman and Ken McKelvey also spoke in favor of I-73, talking about its benefits as a safety road and to drive industry.
Council Member Harold Worley asked those who spoke at public comment what they think Horry County should do given the City of Myrtle Beach rejected an offer from the county to divide up the revenue collected by Horry.
“I hate to put you on the spot, but I think its time we got on the spot,” Worley asked. “I may just be an old farm boy, but I don’t get it.”
He said the business community in Myrtle Beach needs to be vocal about the need for I-73 and the value of Horry’s proposal to divide the fee. Worley feels there is more going on here than just the hospitality fee.
“I just think it’s awful that we would be held hostage because we filed a suit, and I believe this with all my heart, we filed a suit to try to protect Horry County the taxpayer for a TIF in Market Commons,” Worley said.
In 2018, Horry County and Horry County Schools filed a suit against Myrtle Beach over a special tax that collected money to fund the conversion of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Beach into the Market Common shopping center.
Worley said it has been a sticking point between the city and the county.
“I think when we filed that suit, our relationship with Myrtle Beach went to heck in a hand basket just like that,” he said. “It was not personal for any of us, it was just what we were elected to do.”
The Myrtle Beach City Council last week rejected an offer from Horry that would allow the county to continue collecting the fee, but gave a larger percentage of it to coastal municipalities.
The hospitality fee, historically collected by Horry County, has been a hot-button issue since coastal municipalities voted earlier this year to collect the fee for themselves. The fee applies to tourist-related activities, and the nearly $40 million collected annually must be spent to benefit visitors.
In 2018, Horry County Council voted to divide the money between a contract with SCDOT to build part of I-73 and to fund as much public safety as legally allowed.
The money will not be allocated in the upcoming budget until Horry County knows for certain how much money it will collect.