By Paul Gable
The possibility of a Tourism Development Fee in North Myrtle Beach suffered a crushing defeat Tuesday at the polls.
The unofficial tally was 188 Yes votes for the TDF against 3,050 No votes. The results will be certified by the North Myrtle Beach Election Commission Thursday.
Defeat of the TDF is not surprising. What is surprising is the turnout. In the days before the election, I spoke with several seasoned political professionals from Horry County to get their predictions for turnout. They all agreed the number of voters that would go to the polls would range from 750-1,000.
Those predictions were based on past turnout for special elections in Horry County and tempered by the fact that candidates were not on the ballot, just a single referendum question.
To put the numbers more in perspective, a special election in March on a referendum question only drew a total of 3,238 votes. The vote for mayor in the November 2017 city general election saw 3,670 total votes with Mayor Marilyn Hatley winning with 2,765 votes out of 3,670 votes cast. In that same election, councilman Terry White ran unopposed and only gained 2,894 votes.
To call the number of votes cast on this referendum question astounding is to understate it. But, it may also prove to be the high-water mark of politics for the current city council.
The result is exactly what, I believe, North Myrtle Beach city council members wanted from the beginning, a resounding repudiation of the TDF in a referendum vote to take that issue out of the political discussion once and for all. Several council members were quite outspoken with op-eds and social media during the campaign about their opposition to the TDF.
In my opinion, a presentation about the TDF by Mike Mahaney at the Tidewater Homeowners Association on February 19, 2018, one that I personally attended, hinted at other, one could say even better, options for the city than the TDF. The entire North Myrtle Beach city council attended the meeting after the city issued a notice three days before that there was no city council meeting February 19th.
After giving an explanation about the TDF, Mahaney pivoted into a discourse about a bill (S.426) that may be an alternative means of the city raising revenue for needed infrastructure. What wasn’t made clear was that S.426 has been stuck in committee in the S.C. Senate since its introduction and its own sponsor, Sen. Greg Hembree, admitted to me it will not get out of committee this legislative session.
It really isn’t an alternative at this time, but it was discussed as if it could be.
References to the TDF in Myrtle Beach were made during Mahaney’s presentation and one citizen asked if North Myrtle Beach businesses get some benefit from all the advertising done by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce with revenue from that TDF.
The answer was yes they do. However, what wasn’t made clear is that North Myrtle Beach businesses who appear on the MBACC website in hopes of getting some referrals from the advertising must pay significantly higher fees than the same type of businesses in the city limits of Myrtle Beach.
For example, a hotel or rental property management business must remit to the MBACC Convention and Visitors Bureau, a sub-division of the Chamber, $1 for every room night occupied in the previous year plus the basic $30,000 fee to be on the website. In the case of some businesses in North Myrtle Beach included on the Chamber website, that amount is $400,000 – $500,000 more per year while the cost to a similar business in Myrtle Beach is just the $30,000.
The businesses in North Myrtle Beach hoped the TDF would pass so they would have a level playing field with businesses in Myrtle Beach while promoting the North Myrtle Beach brand. That didn’t happen.