Myrtle Beach Lawsuit Sealed Fate of Local I-73 Funding

By Paul Gable

The day the City of Myrtle Beach filed suit against Horry County to end collection of the countywide hospitality fee, local funding for Interstate 73 was doomed.

This may not have been the intention of the lawsuit, but it was the inevitable result.

When Gov. Henry McMaster met with local leaders a couple of months ago encouraging them to find a way to maintain I-73 funding, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune told the governor the lawsuit was not about I-73.

She was right. The lawsuit was about stopping the county’s ability to keep collecting the countywide hospitality fee and keeping all revenue collected in the city for the city’s use.

What Bethune did not understand was stopping the countywide hospitality fee collection stopped the funding stream for I-73 as an unintended consequence. Myrtle Beach must take sole blame for this consequence.

A county resolution to settle the lawsuit last April provided one-third of the countywide hospitality fee revenue would go toward funding I-73. Bethune and the city rejected the offer immediately.

Horry County Council approved removing a sunset provision from its hospitality fee ordinance in May 2017. The intent at that time, as clearly stated by then council chairman Mark Lazarus, was to use the countywide hospitality fee revenue to fund I-73 construction in Horry County.

However, it wasn’t until February 2019 that RIDE I bonds were paid off (the original purpose of the hospitality fee). Myrtle Beach filed suit just a few weeks after claiming the fee collection by the county has been illegal since January 1, 2017.

The original county ordinance put a period of 20 years on collection of the fee, which ended on the above date. The ordinance was later amended to continue collections until RIDE I bonds were completely paid off.

It is clear from the initial complaint filed by Myrtle Beach that the city wants to keep all hospitality fee revenues collected within the city limits for uses determined by city council. One must wonder why the city waited until March 2019 to file suit against the county if the fee has indeed been illegal since January 2017 as the city claims.

Paying for road construction and improvements with locally collected taxes and/or fees has been the norm in Horry County since the original hospitality fee ordinance was passed in 1996. Funding construction of I-73 in Horry County with hospitality fee revenue has been a talking point since 2011, but only became a possibility after RIDE I bonds were paid off in February 2019.

The plan was for the entire portion of I-73 in Horry County, which includes the already completed SC-22 portion paid for with hospitality fee revenue, to be paid for with locally collected taxes and/or fees. This was also supposed to provide the local match for any state or federal money that may be appropriated for I-73 so those appropriations could be used to complete the road in other counties in the state.

Is there any other county in any state in the nation that was expected to fund construction of an interstate within its boundaries with locally collected revenues?

Why are some members of our local legislative delegation, Alan Clemmons, Heather Ammons Crawford, Russell Fry and Tim McGinnis, so eager to keep this funding concept in place? Why was the governor pushing the same concept when he visited a couple of months ago?

Myrtle Beach city council members are now denying responsibility for killing local I-73 funding.

The ‘Myth of I-73’ was propagated by Brad Dean during his entire tenure as President of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. However, local funding of the project was never realistic.

If I-73 is so important to the area, it’s time for our state and federal representatives to acquire funding from their legislative bodies for the project rather than continue attempting to push local funding.

Any locally collected revenue should be spent on other needed local infrastructure improvements and other allowed local goods and services.

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