By Paul Gable
What I took away from the debate on Thursday night between three of the candidates for mayor and the debate among nine candidates for city council a week earlier is a vote for the incumbents in the upcoming Myrtle Beach city elections is a vote for the status quo in the city.
If the incumbents are re-elected, nothing will change including the secrecy and disinformation that surrounds so much of what passes for planning in the city.
Listening to Mayor John Rhodes during the debate and over several days prior to it, the city had its best year ever this year, everything is great in the city and the shootings on Ocean Boulevard this year were “fake news.”
As we know from the mindless tweets of President Donald Trump, fake news is a term used to attempt to discredit any news a politician doesn’t want to hear.
Rhodes definitely doesn’t want to hear news of crime and safety concerns in Myrtle Beach. Rather than attempt to solve those, his attitude seems to be blame the messenger.
One thing that definitely will not change is the Tourism Development Fee charged on virtually every sale in the city. Rhodes voiced strong support of the TDF, taking credit for creating the idea.
What Rhodes did not divulge is how those who benefit from the TDF work to keep the incumbents in place.
The Tourism Development Fee is a one percent tax (one cent on every dollar spent) on basically everything that is purchased in Myrtle Beach. It is paid by everybody who buys anything in the city.
The tourism industry essentially gets its advertising costs paid for it from these tax dollars.
This is roughly the same as if the federal government charged a one percent sales tax on every item purchased in the United States to pay for the advertising of Ford, General Motors, Microsoft and General Electric.
In order to make it popular to the citizens of Myrtle Beach, a rebate of approximately 80% of property taxes is credited to the owner occupied properties in the city, in essence providing a huge tax break.
Every time Horry County citizens, not living in Myrtle Beach, buy something in the city they pay a small portion of the property taxes of some Myrtle Beach residents as well as paying toward the advertising costs of some of the largest businesses in the city while still having to pay for parking in the city.
It is a tax on all of us to pay for marketing that should be paid for by private businesses in the city so the big money interests can pay for television ads and mail pieces supporting the incumbents to keep the merry go round going.
And, to coin a phrase from the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, “It’s Working!”
In the 2015 city elections, the big money interests, in the guise of Citizens for Conservative Values, spent a considerable amount of money on television and radio ads and direct mail pieces claiming the city was “On the right track”, which certainly wasn’t true but got the job of re-electing incumbents done.
Not only does the TDF help the big money interests put more in their respective pockets, but it is also using tax dollars to advertise golf courses owned by what now appears to be nothing more than a Chinese national who is the beneficiary of a Ponzi scheme on Chinese investors.
But, “It’s Working” to save the interests of the present power structure in Myrtle Beach.
The secrecy surrounding whatever development plan has been concocted for the Superblock and adjacent areas is alive and well. Rhodes talked about the library relocation/children’s museum project several times while qualifying each time that project was not set in stone.
Rhodes tried to say that all the city was doing was acquiring rundown properties in the downtown area in order to revitalize the area. If that is true, why must the city threaten to seize some of those properties through the use of eminent domain?
No incumbent has ever satisfactorily answered that question. Who really stands to benefit from all this property acquisition is a well kept secret and re-election of the incumbents will keep it that way.
The problem with this year’s city election is the same one that has been ongoing since 2009. A few players in the city have benefitted from actions of council while many areas of the city are ignored.
That is made easier by the fact that the city council has all at-large seats. The incumbents tell you that means every member of council represents all of the citizens in the city rather than just those in an election district.
The reality is most of the citizens are ignored while a few benefit handsomely, often secretly, from the redirection of public dollars.
And those benefiting will go to almost any length to keep the system intact.