By Paul Gable
The pending lawsuit between Horry County and the City of Myrtle Beach over the proceeds from the proposed sale of the city owned portion of Pirateland and Lakewood campgrounds highlights another example of poor public policy that has been the lowlight of incumbent Mayor Brenda Bethune and city council’s last three years in office.
This will be at least the fourth major lawsuit involving the city, three of which have Horry County on the opposing side, since Bethune took office.
The lawsuit that does not include Horry County was brought by merchants affected by a supposed “family friendly overlay zone” on Ocean Boulevard that prohibits the sale of certain items which are readily available and sold throughout the remainder of the city.
These prohibitions appear to be not only a violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal application of the law, but since over 90 percent of the affected businesses are Jewish owned, also appear to be discriminatory and anti-Semitic. Bethune led the charge in passing these discriminatory restrictions by city council.
Unequal application of the law and discrimination against a certain segment of the business community is certainly bad public policy.
In the three lawsuits involving Horry County, it appears the city was attempting to get its hands on pots of money that the city used extremely suspect logic to lay claims to,
One lawsuit has the county and Horry County School District suing the city over alleged misuse of approximately $20 million in TIF funds collected from Market Common.
A second lawsuit was initiated by the city against Horry County for hospitality fee collection. In this one, the city attempted to allege that the county has been illegally collecting hospitality fees in the city since January 1, 2017 and was looking to lay claim to over $100 million in funds.
However, the city’s claim had little merit as to funds the county should remit to the city. The county submitted a settlement plan to the city one month after the city filed suit. Bethune rebuffed the county plan in media. Eighteen months and millions of dollars in attorney’s fees later, the city agreed to a nearly identical settlement plan with just a question of attorney fees to yet be settled by the S.C. Supreme Court.
This latest lawsuit involves land the city was given by the federal government after the first installation of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base closed in 1948. A restriction on the transfer of land that the city obligated itself to said any revenue derives from use, lease or disposition of the property was to be used for the benefit of the airport.
There was no county government in 1948 so the land was given to the city and the city ran what little airport function there was at the time. When the South Carolina General Assembly passed Home Rule establishing county governments in the 1970’s , it designated counties as the responsible parties for the operation of airports. It is arguable that the city should have deeded the lands received from the federal government for airport use or subsidy to the county at that time.
It did not. Use of the revenues from the campground leases were a point of contention between the city and county since the 1970’s onward. In 2004, the city and county entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement in which the lease revenue from the campgrounds was split 75% to the county airport and 25% to the city. At that time, it was not anticipated the city would ever sell the land.
In FY 2020, the county airport received $2.4 million from the city, according to county records. The money goes into the airport general fund but was included in the projected financing of the new airport terminal bonds for both the defunct west side terminal project and the completed east side terminal project.
With the decline in passengers and passenger facility charges by the airport, since the onset of the Covid 19 epidemic, the county airport would take a double hit if the city attempts to sell the property now under lease to the campgrounds without remitting at least 75% of the sale proceeds to the county airport.
City council has already passed first reading of ordinances allowing the sale of the campground properties for a total of $60 million, a price deemed too low by the city’s own appraisal and several property development managers who spoke to Grand Strand Daily.
This is very shortsighted public policy. The airport serves the entire county but the city’s tourism industry derives a giant portion of the economic benefit from passengers using the airport.
At last count and before the effects of Covid 19 are completely known, the city had 144 empty commercial buildings with no plan how to attempt to gain new businesses to the area.
Instead, the city seems intent on finding pots of money it can lay some type of spurious claim to with hopes to win favorable settlements in court. Lawyers for the court cases are paid from city tax revenue that would be better spent on city goods and services for the taxpaying citizens.
I submit this approach only emphasizes bad public policy and a lack of real leadership on the part of the mayor and city council.
City elections for mayor and three city council members will be held in the fall of 2021. One can only hope that some true leaders emerge in the ensuing period to claim these seats from the incumbents.