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Horry County Parks and Recreation Department will most likely remain public for the coming fiscal year, but privatization will not be ruled out for future years.
County council’s administration committee met on Tuesday to discuss the potential of privatization, which was brought up at a previous budget workshop. No decisions were made, but the committee recommended council collectively moves forward with a one mill tax increase for the park fund in the coming years.
Since November, Horry County Council has been looking for a way to ensure over 20 percent of its parks and recreation offerings do not shutter due to revenue not keeping up with expenses. The financial issues stem from the vastness of the county driving up maintenance costs.
A one mil increase was previously described as a “band-aid” to give Horry County parks an extra year of operations at its current standards. This hike will bring in an extra $2.2 million in revenue to the recreation department, costing taxpayers nearly $6 each year on a $150,000 property, according to County Spokesperson Kelly Moore.
In addition, dollars left over from Ride projects could be dedicated to help fund parks department.
The talks of privatization will be moved to September under the committee’s recommendation. They will give staff time to come up with a request for a proposals announcement detailing what requirements a company would have to meet.
Some of these requirements included in an RFP would include how much the company can charge for services, hours of operations, maintenance standards and use during emergencies.
For council member Paul Prince, a private business will not be able to offer the service with the same heart as Horry County government. Especially when it comes to building and operating recreation centers in his and council member Al Allen’s more rural districts.
“This is one of the things that I don’t think they will do it for the people of Horry County as good as we are now,” Prince said. “Who has more heart in it other than Horry County Council and staff?”
Council member Bill Howard said he has a hard time seeing how a private company will turn a profit operating the parks in Horry, but he thinks putting out a request for proposals wouldn’t be the worst idea.
The issue is, given the challenges of privatization, creating the request will be a challenge, Interim Administrator Steve Gosnell said. Still, his staff has begun the process and can have something together by the September meeting of the administration committee.
County staff did not recommend a full privatization of the department, instead saying handing off the operations of recreational centers would be the best first step, Parks Director Paul McCulloch said. Council could also decide to just privatize on center as a trial run.
Staff recommended privatizing three recreation centers: North Strand, South Strand and Carolina Forest. Gosnell said hypothetically, North Myrtle Beach has interest in taking over the North Strand center.
The recommendations must be approved during the budget process at an upcoming meeting of the full Horry County Council.
“I don’t believe it’s going to work, but I think to make it work for everyone, we need to put it out there,” Howard said.