By Paul Gable
Horry County’s response to the lawsuit over hospitality fees filed last month by the City of Myrtle Beach follows a pattern the county has used in recent years when it is challenged in court.
That pattern is to launch a subjective attack on the opponent rather than argue objective facts of the case.
The county claimed SkyDive Myrtle Beach committed 112 safety violations and was running an unsafe operation at Grand Strand Airport. To date, neither the county Department of Airports nor the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to produce documentation of even one safety violation but SkyDive Myrtle Beach has been closed down since 2015.
The county claimed Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones mismanaged her department and fired employees in order to provide openings for political allies. The county’s counterclaim called for Jones to personally bear responsibility for any shortfall in her department funding, of which there was none.
In its answer to the city’s lawsuit, Horry County claims Myrtle Beach has mismanaged its budget for years and “now attempts to circumvent state law to shore up its own finances.”
Obviously the county’s claim that the city has mismanaged its budget is a subjective political one as well as being erroneous. One guide to effective budget management is bond rating. The city’s bond rating is AA, the same as the county’s.
On the basis of the city’s original complaint and the county’s response, the city appears to have the better legal argument to this non-lawyer observer.
The county’s claim of budget mismanagement on the part of the city appears to have no more validity than the false allegations of wrongdoing made by county attorney Arrigo Carotti and former administrator Chris Eldridge against Chairman Johnny Gardner. The county’s tendency to create a narrative then try to claim it as fact is too repetitious to be accidental, but it is not a legal argument.
The city’s initial act to claim all hospitality fee revenue collected within the city limits and the county’s attempt to extend a countywide 1.5% hospitality fee collection ad infinitum are the starting point of this dispute. The cities of North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach followed Myrtle Beach’s lead with new hospitality fee ordinances.
As it stands today there is no money to fund the Financial Participation Agreement between the county and SCDOT for the I-73 project, the original reason the county gave for dropping the sunset provision in its hospitality fee ordinance. If there is a sincere desire by the respective governments within the county to provide some funding for I-73, this lawsuit is not the answer.
The county’s response to the city lawsuit will do nothing but inflame the rhetoric between the two largest governments in Horry County. This is a reversion by both to the level of the 1980’s and early 90’s battles over the Airport Trust Fund, dual taxation and road maintenance fee collections, among other historical disputes between Myrtle Beach and Horry County.
Carotti promised county council members last week that the county would aggressively defend the lawsuit brought by the city. This response to the city’s complaint is not an aggressive defense, in this writer’s opinion. It appears to be more of an attempt to ratchet up tensions between the two governments.
In order to best serve all the citizens residing here, Myrtle Beach and Horry County must find a way to at least talk directly outside of court.
It’s probably time for another ‘chicken fingers and clam chowder’ confab between the two governmental entities. The only problem may be finding enough adults on both sides of the issue to step up and begin the conversation.