By Paul Gable
High drama surrounded a recent decision by the Horry County Council Infrastructure and Regulation Committee to consider changes and/or cancellation of the Financial Participation Agreement the county signed with SCDOT last December for the Interstate 73 project.
Like many issues in the political arena these days, this one included its share of drama queens heightening and confusing the discussion while voicing veiled threats about possible state government retaliation should local government officials significantly alter or cancel the agreement.
According to local council members who spoke with Grand Strand Daily, Reps. Russell Fry and Alan Clemmons as well as former representative and current Myrtle Beach Chamber lobbyist Mike Ryhal quickly took to phone calls and texts when they heard of the planned I&R discussion earlier this week.
Their collective message, reportedly, was leave the agreement alone or face the possibility of the General Assembly altering current state law to remove control of hospitality and accommodations tax revenue from local governments in favor of control in Columbia.
Ever since July 2017 when former county council chairman Mark Lazarus and members of county government senior staff led council down the path to partial funding of the I-73 project by removing a sunset provision from the county’s hospitality tax law, this controversy has been inevitable.
Despite massive propaganda efforts through the years by the Chamber and a few elected officials about the necessity of I-73 to provide a connection to Interstate 95, local residents have remained unconvinced of the purported benefits of the project.
Many of those who cried the loudest – the Chamber, Clemmons and U.S. Congressman Tom Rice – have been collectively unsuccessful at acquiring funding for the project at the state and federal levels.
Only Lazarus, through questionable extension of countywide hospitality tax collections, was able to secure any significant funding for the project.
However, the councils of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach have recently moved to take control hospitality tax revenue collected in their respective corporate limits, thereby undercutting the county’s ability to fund the financial participation agreement with SCDOT.
Myrtle Beach did make something of a gesture at holding discussions with the county toward some type of inter-governmental agreement for some I-73 project funding during its council meeting Tuesday.
However, too much is left unsaid about what funds will be available when for the county council to allow its agreement with SCDOT to remain active in its present form at this time and still attempt to claim it is performing its fiduciary responsibility to the citizens.
Complicating any discussion about a future I-73 are the flooding events experienced by the county in recent years. Any discussion of hospitality and accommodations tax revenue expenditures should include necessary upgrades, flood mitigation and maintenance for roads such as U.S. 501, S.C. 22, S.C. 9, Hwy 90 and Hwy 905.
Other immediate needs for hospitality and accommodations tax funding include additional public safety staffing, recreation facilities and other infrastructure improvements and maintenance.
In other words, fix and improve the roads already in place and attend to other immediate needs in the county rather than attempting to fund some boondoggle whose necessity is, at best, very questionable. The only possible immediate benefit from I-73 funding is to those few who stand to gain financial benefit from options on right of way parcels or securing engineering and design contracts.
As for the drama queens, Fry, Clemmons, Ryhal and others, focus on what you are elected or hired to do in Columbia and keep your collective noses out of county discussions. If you really want to see a completed I-73 anytime in the future, get the state to provide some real funding for the project or just shut up.