By Paul Gable
Horry County Council proved during its special meeting Monday night it doesn’t need the county administrator or attorney to embarrass the county. Council did a fine job embarrassing itself on its own.
Two key items were up for a vote – not to renew the administrator’s contract upon its April 21, 2019 termination and termination of the financial participation agreement between the county and SCDOT for the I-73 project.
Council kicked both votes down the road.
There may have been some justification for not voting on the administrator’s contract because council chairman Johnny Gardner was contacted by an attorney representing administrator Chris Eldridge yesterday morning requesting negotiation of an exit package for Eldridge.
Gardner said he believes agreement can be reached on a termination package so Eldridge will depart county employment within two weeks.
Delaying cancellation of the I-73 agreement, however, is an entirely different story.
There is no benefit to the county and its citizens of keeping an agreement in place, the funding for which is a great mystery at this point.
However, the Myrtle Beach Chamber and its cronies were in full lobbying mode yesterday to keep the financial participation agreement in place.
Those council members, I’m thinking here of council’s Deep Six in particular, who are much more inclined to listen to the special interest lobbyists at the expense of the citizens of the county fell right in line.
Council member Harold Worley, the apparent leader of the Deep Six, was reportedly in favor of cancelling the financial participation agreement at the end of last week. Monday night, Worley was the foremost proponent from the council dais in maintaining the agreement and negotiation with the county’s municipalities on a new split of hospitality tax revenues.
In the past few weeks, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach have all passed ordinances whose sole purpose is to capture all hospitality tax revenues collected within their respective corporate limits.
The City of Myrtle Beach has filed a lawsuit against Horry County claiming the county’s collection of a 1.5% countywide hospitality tax has been illegal since January 1, 2017.
But, to hear Worley tell it Monday night, all of the above can magically go away if Gardner and the city’s mayors sit down behind closed doors and ‘find it in their hearts” to do so.
The negotiations would be held under the terms of a confidentiality agreement proposed by Myrtle Beach. Essentially that agreement requires participants to guarantee complete secrecy forever of what is discussed.
Nothing good for the taxpayers ever comes from governments negotiating the expenditure of public tax dollars in secret.
If some type of inter-governmental agreement is reached, it would have to be voted on by each of the participants in public. However, public discussion of those votes is often couched in vague language to keep the terms as secret as possible.
This is not about “hearts”. It is about bending to the will of the special interests while keeping everything secret from the citizens.
Not coincidentally, the county received the first proposed work plan for the I-73 project from SCDOT yesterday.
For Fiscal Year 2020, which begins July 1, 2019, SCDOT proposes expenditures totaling $12,445,000 for the I-73 project. The expenditures fall into four categories:
- I-73 design – $5 million
- Right of way acquisition – $6.75 million
- SC-22 feasibility study – $410,000
- SC-22 shoulder upgrade design – $285,000
Under the current terms of the agreement, SCDOT may sign contracts for all of the above expenditures with no pre-approval required from the county.
What landowners/option holders and what engineering firms stand to gain immediate financial benefit from not having the financial participation agreement cancelled?
What are the connections between those who will gain immediate financial benefit and the Chamber?
What benefits accrue to the Deep Six in working for the special interests as opposed to the interests of the citizens they represent?