Veto puts future of North Myrtle Beach, Georgetown dredging projects in doubt

Long-sought dredging projects in Georgetown and North Myrtle Beach were thrown into doubt Tuesday after Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed a bill both communities were awaiting.

Haley refused to approve Bill 4033, which would allow North Myrtle Beach to set up a special municipal tax assessment district to help pay for dredging the Cherry Grove canals, and also would have allowed port or other channel dredging to be included in capital projects sales tax measures.

Moves to override her veto are expected when lawmakers convene next week for a brief wrapup session, but a senator who co-sponsored the bill said he could not predict what might happen.

Georgetown County is planning a capital projects sales tax referendum for the November ballot, with a possible allocation to help pay for dredging the port of Georgetown if the law allows it.

North Myrtle Beach has been working on plans to dredge the silted-in Cherry Grove canals for eight years, and was blocked part of that time by a lawsuit claiming the city did not own the canals and could not dredge them. The state Supreme Court ruled in April that the canals are waters of the state, meaning the city could have jurisdiction over them.

Haley’s veto message did not mention the port or channel dredging provisions for capital projects sales tax spending. Instead, her concern was with the special tax assessment for canal dredging.

``I am vetoing this bill because it gives improvement districts the ability to tax more homeowners who have not given their consent,’’ her message to lawmakers said.

However, the bill specifically requires that property owners must sign a written agreement to be taxed for a project.

Haley’s message also said the bill allows taxing for ``not only those properties near a canal, but also properties near waterways connected to a canal.’’

The additions ``could lead to higher involuntary assessments for property owners already subject to them, along with new assessments on property owners who are not currently subject to the levies,’’ she wrote.

State Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, was a co-sponsor of the measure to allow port dredging to be included in a capital projects sales tax measure. A separate bill calling for that was merged with the one allowing for North Myrtle Beach’s project.

``I’m somewhat disappointed,’’ Cleary said. The bill called for agreements from people to tax themselves to pay for projects they want.

``Isn’t that what we want?’’ he said. ``Why have a problem with it?’’

Chances for overriding the bill are uncertain. Both houses must override by a two-thirds margin.

The bill for including dredging in special tax assessments passed the House by a veto-proof 100-0, and when it came back after being amended in the Senate it passed 89-0. The bill was amended in the Senate to include the capital projects sales tax dredging, and passed 31-9. An override requires 31 votes.

Georgetown County is closing in on deadlines to get a capital projects sales tax plan ready for November, with the time required for public hearings and approvals. The council had the capital projects sales tax ordinance on the agenda for first reading by title Tuesday night, to help move things along.

The special capital projects sales tax commission charged with recommending items to include on the ballot will most likely draw up two separate plans, one without the port dredging, said chair Dan Stacy. The commission had planned to make a final decision next week.

``If the veto is overridden, then the proposal with dredge allocations would be our recommendation,’’ he said. ``If not, then an alternate proposal without dredge allocations would be our recommendation.’’

County Administrator Sel Hemingway said if the veto is not overturned, the commission may reduce the number of years the tax would be collected, ``or it may identify additional projects to replace the dredging projects.’’

The county estimated it could gather $5.5 million a year with the tax, which could be imposed for up to eight years. Besides money to aid the $33 million project to bring the shipping channel back to its 27-foot standard depth, the county is ready with millions of dollars worth of other projects identified in a citizen-driven visioning project several years ago.

North Myrtle Beach wants to dredge the Cherry Grove canals, many of which are no longer navigable. The project is estimated to cost at least $10 million, to come from a variety of state, federal and local sources, said city spokesman Pat Dowling.

It is ``extremely important to the project’’ to be able to use a special tax district to help pay for it, Dowling said.

He said Haley may not understand that waterways to be included in the special tax district must be connected to the Cherry Grove canals, and that part of the legislation applies only to North Myrtle Beach.

``We will certainly ask our delegation to encourage the Legislature to override the governor’s veto,’’ Dowling said.

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