Hospitality lawsuit: How much has Myrtle Beach spent fighting Horry County?

The City of Myrtle Beach has spent $757,983.17 to date on hospitality fee litigation, according to Spokesperson Mark Kruea.

Myrtle Beach provided its attorney fees on Wednesday without a formal Freedom of Information Act request. Horry County was unable to produce how much money it has spent on hospitality fee litigation, or provide a rough estimate of expenses, without an open records request.

The cost of the litigation for the hospitality fee was called into question at Tuesday’s Horry County Council meeting when Council Member Harold Worley took issue with “street talk,” saying Horry County could be entering a deal to pay $6 million to Myrtle Beach in legal fees to bring an end to the dispute.

“They’re aiming to rape the taxpayers. It’s awful what’s going on behind closed doors. I won’t be a part of it,” he said Tuesday. “I represent the people, I don’t represent lawyers.”

Worley was speaking about an unapproved, tentative agreement reached last week during a mediation session. The agreement is still not in the public domain. The council member said he heard the deal was similar to an earlier offer made by Horry County to Myrtle Beach, one that didn’t require lawyers to be involved.

The lawsuit began on March 20 when Myrtle Beach sued Horry County over the collection of a 1.5 percent hospitality fee within municipal borders. Any changes to the collection of the fee as a result of the lawsuit could have a major impact on yearly budgets for Myrtle Beach and Horry County. Just a year ago, Horry County was expected to collect $40 million dollars in revenue from the tax on hospitality services.

The legal battle has required a lot of time and effort from the contracted law firms on both sides. Attorneys produced and filed dozens of court documents, attended hearings and executive sessions, sat through more than 20 hours of mitigation and started an S.C. Supreme Court Appeals process.

Horry County asked that a Freedom of Information Act request be filed for the information, which could take up to 30 days to get the information back.

When asked if a rough estimate for the expenses could be provided or if someone on the county’s staff was keeping track of expenses, County Spokesperson Kelly Moore said a formal FOIA must be filed to get the information.

“We think these matters, because they are in litigation, are best handled through the formal process of the SC Freedom of Information Act,” Moore wrote in an email.

In July, ahead of a two-day, 20-hour mediation session, The Sun News FOIA’d Horry County hospitality fee expenses and it took nearly a month for the request to be fulfilled. The request was returned as a series of mostly redacted invoices totaling up to $158,288 spent in legal fees.

Even with a tentative deal met, the matter is not totally settled. Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner said each side’s lawyers are still working to put together an actionable plan of the deal.

If the plan is approved by both councils, it must then be approved by a judge before it becomes public. If the plan is not accepted, an appeal filed by Horry County must be resolved before the main lawsuit can continue.

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Development and Horry County reporter Tyler Fleming joined The Sun News in May of 2018. He covers other stuff too, like reporting on beer, bears, breaking news and Coastal Carolina University. He graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018 and was the 2017-18 editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. He has won (and lost) several college journalism awards.