Tag: Bill Howard

County Council Guts Impact Fee Ordinance Before Final Passage

Horry County Council gave unanimous approval to third reading of an ordinance establishing impact fees on new construction but only after voting to reduce the fees by 81.5% before final passage.
To those who haven’t followed the issue closely, the reduction to only a nominal fee that will be charged may seem an action in the best traditions of a conservative council.
BUT IT’S NOT!
In fact, it is a huge victory for special interests to the detriment of average taxpayers in the county.
What eight members of council really voted for was to cave-in to the wishes of the development lobby while ignoring the wishes of the taxpayers.
The development lobby was successful in defeating attempts to impose impact fees at least twice in the last 15 years. After county voters supported instituting impact fees to help pay the cost of new development by a 72% vote in 2018, it was obvious some type of bone had to be thrown to voters this time around.
The question is not whether the explosive development the county is currently experiencing is going to increase the need for new or improved roads, new stormwater infrastructure, new fire stations, new parks and so on. Rather the question is who is going to pay for these improvements of basic needs.
Eight members of council, Johnny Vaught, Dennis DiSabato, Danny Hardee, Mark Causey, Orton Bellamy, Bill Howard, Cam Crawford and Gary Loftus voted to extend those costs to every taxpayer in the county rather than limit the charge to those causing the increase – namely owners of new construction whether private homes or commercial.
Council Chairman Johnny Gardner, and members Harold Worley and Tyler Servant voted against the amendments gutting impact fees and for the wishes of the voters as expressed in the referendum.
New single-family homes will be the class of construction that will generate the greatest proportion of the new fees. The first two readings of the impact fee ordinance passed with a fee amount of $6,645 per single-family home with other types of construction, multi-family, retail, hotel for example, having maximum fees imposed in accordance with state law.
Tuesday night the eight council members named above amended the ordinance to remove impact fees for road and stormwater infrastructure from the ordinance thereby reducing the fee for single-family homes from $6,645 per home to $1,236 per home.
But the costs for new and improved road and stormwater infrastructure to serve the new developments throughout the county won’t go away just because council removed those portions of the fee from the ordinance.

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Crunch Time for County Council and Impact Fees

Tuesday night Horry County Council will vote on third reading of an ordinance to impose impact fees on new construction in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Two and one-half years ago, nearly 75% of the voters said yes to an advisory referendum question asking whether county council should establish impact fees in the county.
Despite passing the first two readings unanimously, third reading passage of the ordinance is not assured.
On the table at third reading of the ordinance is imposition of an impact fee of approximately $6,600 for new single-family homes and varying impact fees for other types of new construction depending on the type.
Numerous sources have told me over the past two weeks the pressure on council members from the development lobby to water down the bill or kill it completely has been intense.
That lobby, composed of large landowners, builders and their associated sub-contractors and the real estate sales industry is pushing the message that impact fees will cause a significant slowdown in construction costing jobs and seriously impacting the local economy as well as making it more difficult in recruiting new businesses to the area.
The real reason for the opposition to impact fees is the builders do not want to pay $6.600 more out of their pockets each time they receive a new building permit. Developers will recover that money when the house is sold because the cost of impact fees will be passed on to the new homeowner, but they don’t want to float that sum for the few months between start of construction and sale in today’s market.
The impact fee will add approximately 2.5% to the cost of the average new home in Horry County. Prices on new homes have risen considerably more than that in the past year simply through market forces of supply and demand and sales of new homes have not slowed down because of the increasing price.
Impact fees in Horry County are not a new concept. Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority has been collecting impact fees for a number of years. The statement in the county’s Imagine 2040 master plan explaining those fees is simple, “GSWSA collects water and wastewater capacity fees (impact fees) from new customers so that the current customer base does not bear the burden of new growth for both water and wastewater improvements.”
The development lobby used its same arguments when GSWSA imposed impact fees. Those arguments were totally false then and remain totally false now. One only has to drive around the county and view all the new construction projects in various stages of completion to see how false the argument is. GSWSA impact fees have not impacted new construction one iota.

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Fate of County Council Draws Near with Upcoming Vote on Impact Fees

In two weeks, the 12 members of Horry County Council will go a long way toward deciding their future fates with the voters when third reading of the county impact fee ordinance comes up for a vote.
In 2018, over 70% of voters approved establishing impact fees in the county on an advisory referendum question on the general election ballot.
Those voters have not forgotten their eminently clear message to county council – vote for impact fees.
On the table at third reading of the ordinance is imposition of an impact fee of approximately $6,600 for new single-family homes and varying impact fees for other types of new construction depending on the type.
The need for impact fees to pay for the costs of new development is quite simple. Revenue from those fees can be used to fund new capital projects in a variety of categories including roads, parks and recreation facilities, libraries, fire stations and police stations that will be needed to serve the huge amount of development currently underway in the county.
Using impact fees to pay for such new construction can reduce the pressure on the general fund to pay those costs or the need to impose such things as special projects sales taxes such as the RIDE tax.
To further exacerbate the issue, eight members of county council (Johnny Vaught, Dennis DiSabato, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus, Bill Howard, Orton Bellamy, Danny Hardee and Mark Causey) provided the votes to pass the largest individual tax increase in Horry County history – 7.5 mils in the unincorporated area plus increases in two additional fees.
As one social media post noted about the tax increase, “Absolutely heinous that the special interests and county council put all this (costs of) new development on the backs of existing taxpayers. Unbelievable! If they had imposed impact fees when the majority of HC residents approved them several years ago, we wouldn’t have to have such huge mil increases. This is literally taxation without representation and it’s theft.”
And another, “The tax and spend so-called Republicans don’t give a flip. They will find any excuse to raise taxes on the hard-working residents of Horry County.”
Three members of county council, Chairman Johnny Gardner, Harold Worley and Al Allen received thanks for voting against the tax increase and “putting the people first.” Council member Tyler Servant was absent for the vote.
The message in those posts is certainly clear, but one wonders whether all council members are hearing that message.

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Money for I-77, Where is Money for I-73?

President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday June 18th about $34.6 million appropriated from the federal government for a new interchange on I-77 in Rock Hill.

Where is an appropriation for I-73?

Trump’s tweet again highlights the inability of our elected representatives, many of whom were reelected at last week’s primary, to get any funding for their supposed number one agenda item.

Tom Rice, Alan Clemmons, Heather Crawford, Luke Rankin, Russell Fry, Dennis Disabato, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus, Johnny Vaught, Bill Howard, Tyler Servant, Brenda Bethune – aren’t you all embarrassed and ashamed of your continuing inability to secure any funding for I-73?

Over the past year, each and every one of you has spoken of the importance of I-73 to the local economy and to the safety of our citizens.

All this announcement does is demonstrate your political impotence, both individually and collectively, to deliver funding from any source other than Horry County for the project you list among your top priorities!

Five of the above, Clemmons, both Crawfords, Disabato and Loftus were victors in recent primaries, guaranteeing their reelection in November. Two others, Rice and Fry, had no primary opponent and will have a virtual walkover in November. Four, Vaught, Howard, Servant and Bethune, will face reelection over the next two years. The lone remaining incumbent, Rankin, faces a runoff election next week.

Whether it be money for I-73, flood mitigation, other infrastructure projects or other needs to help the citizens of Horry County, the ‘Dirty Dozen’ incumbents mentioned above can’t deliver.

Even the development industry, which spent tons of money helping the reelection of these people has to be let down at this announcement. After all, I-73 would net immediate revenue for some of those and it would open up considerable land in the western part of the county for development, even though much of it probably shouldn’t be developed due to flooding and infrastructure considerations.

Despite their continuing demonstrated inability to accomplish anything positive for the area, the voters chose to send those up for reelection last week back into office.

This announcement is just another example of why that was a bad idea.

County Council Adds More Controversy to Hospitality Fee Settlement

Horry County Council approved an amended settlement agreement at its special meeting Monday night that added to the controversy regarding settling the hospitality fee lawsuit.

Council split 7-5 on votes to amend the settlement agreement and to approve the settlement agreement as amended. Those voting for the agreement were Johnny Vaught, Dennis DiSabato, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftis, Bill Howard, Tyler Servant and Orton Bellamy.

The Deep Six (Vaught, DiSabato, Crawford, Loftis, Servant and Howard) can always be counted on to support anything the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber and other special interests in the county want. Vaught is counting on that group to fund his run for chairman in two years while DiSabato, Crawford and Loftis expect significant donations from special interests to fund their upcoming reelection campaigns.

The special interests want I-73, they fall in line to keep it in play.

Voting against the settlement were Chairman Johnny Gardner, Harold Worley, Al Allen, Danny Hardee and Paul Prince.

As Worley said at the beginning of open debate on the question, the elephant in the room was I-73.

The settlement agreement as presented Monday night would provide approximately $14.5 million per year toward I-73. As Worley pointed out this amount is a drop in the bucket for a project that will require approximately $670 million to complete the road in Horry County, $1.3 billion to reach I-95 and over $2 billion for the total project to the North Carolina border in Marlboro County.

But the drop in the bucket is important to those landowners in Horry County who will benefit from right of way purchases for the road and the engineering and other businesses who will profit from the early design and site work for the project.

The federal and state governments will have to come in with significant money for the road to ever be completed but the local special interests can realize a significant income from the early work that can be paid for if the county contributes. Like always, it’s all about the money.

Another Hospitality Fee Filing, Another Email, More County Lunacy

The City of Myrtle Beach filed a supplemental memorandum Monday in support of its lawsuit against Horry County’s continued collection of hospitality fees.

Leading the memorandum is an affidavit by North Myrtle Beach City Manager Michael Mahaney providing evidence of the county’s continued collection of the hospitality fee in the City of North Myrtle Beach after June 21, 2019, and supporting a June 26, 2019 motion by Myrtle Beach for the county to show cause why it was not in contempt of a temporary restraining order issued by Judge Seals on June 21, 2019 prohibiting same.

Included in the filing was an email originated by attorney Henrietta Golding who is representing the county in the lawsuit.

The email appears to have evolved out of the string of emails that were the subject of several media stories yesterday. The email that appears to have started the string was sent by former county council chairman Mark Lazarus to Golding.

In her email, Goldings criticizes the judge and the temporary restraining order the judge issued against the county for having “many errors”; states, “This is solely the fault of Myrtle Beach” and appears to discuss the county’s strategy in moving forward by saying the county will try to get a “supersedeas” and saying “if the county took steps to suspend the ordinance (creating the hospitality fee), then probably create legal issues detrimental to the county.”

Golding’s email was sent to Lazarus, county council members Johnny Vaught, Harold Worley, Tyler Servant and Dennis DiSabato, interim administrator Steve Gosnell, county attorney Arrigo Carotti, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley, Mahaney and Surfside Beach City Manager Dennis Pieper.

The choice of recipients is confusing as Golding only represents six – the four council members, county administrator and county attorney. Lazarus has no official position with the county since his term ended December 31, 2018. Hatley, Mahaney and Pieper support the position of Myrtle Beach that the county has been illegally collecting the hospitality fees since January 1, 2017 when the original sunset provision of the county hospitality fee ordinance expired.

How Far Will the Deep Six Go to Block Change With a New Administrator?

The first phase in finding a replacement for former county administrator Chris Eldridge will be completed next week as applications from candidates must be in by June 5, 2019.

The Deep Six, council members Harold Worley, Tyler Servant, Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus, Cam Crawford and Bill Howard, assisted by council member Johnny Vaught, already tried to hijack this process once.

In behind the scenes maneuvering, this group attempted to promote the hiring of interim administrator Steve Gosnell to the administrator job without consideration of any other candidates. When the plot was exposed, several of the plotters backed away quickly.

Voters in the county opted for change in the way the county does business when they elected council chairman Johnny Gardner to replace Mark Lazarus last year.

Since Gardner took office, the Deep Six have attempted to obstruct change to the point of initially blocking the firing of Eldridge after he and county attorney Arrigo Carotti were discredited in their attempt to smear Gardner. That little episode cost county taxpayers approximately $300,000, the cost of paying off Eldridge to get rid of him.

But, that cost will be minimal compared to the cost to taxpayers of blocking a new vision to county administration.

Steve Gosnell has been a good engineer for the county. He has approximately two years to go before hitting the 28 year mark for full retirement. He is not the person to look to for changes in the way county government is run.

Gosnell has been head of the county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Division and an assistant administrator for a number of years, once before serving as interim administrator. He has built a working relationship with other members of senior staff and, as such, is not expected to look at what changes are necessary to make county government more effective, more responsive to the needs of citizens and more transparent.

County government does not need, in the administrator position, a two year placeholder looking forward to retirement while keeping many of the failed Eldridge policies and senior staff in place.

County Attorney Reverses Stance on Eldridge Agreement Release

One day after denying Freedom of Information requests for the release of the termination agreement with former county administrator Chris Eldridge, Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti honored those requests.

What changed in 24 hours? Absolutely nothing!

Carotti tried to lay blame for the initial denial of release of the agreement on a claim that is was “confidential.”

This claim apparently rose from a “non-disclosure” clause that was included in the document.

The non-disclosure clause was never discussed in negotiations with the attorney representing Eldridge in the matter, according to council Chairman Johnny Gardner. Gardner said council was told it was a standard clause the county’s Human Resources department adds to this type of agreement.

But, the clause is illegal under state law. It not only violates the state Freedom of Information Act, but also violates state statutes with respect to public contracts and the expenditure of public funds. The clause also attempted to infringe on the First Amendment protections of free speech by limiting what council members could say about the agreement.

The termination agreement with Eldridge is a public contract. The severance package for Eldridge, agreed to by council, will be paid from public funds. State statutes specifically require public disclosure of such contracts and payments.

Carotti also claimed in an email to council members that he reached out to Eldridge’s attorney to see if Eldridge would agree to public disclosure of the document. Carotti claimed he received written permission from Eldridge’s attorney and released the document at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Let’s explore those statements.

Carotti claims to need approval from Eldridge’s attorney to disclose the agreement due to a ‘boilerplate’ clause in the contract that was never part of the negotiations. Rather, the clause was put into the contract illegally by the county’s HR department and then used to initially deny public access to the agreement.

County Council Ends Eldridge Nightmare

The nightmare that has been the reign of county administrator Chris Eldridge ended Tuesday night when county council approved a termination package to end Eldridge’s employment.

The specific details of Eldridge’s package were not announced. However, it is believed to be in the neighborhood of one year salary, benefits and allowances or approximately $300,000 cost to the county.

And it is worth every penny to get rid of a poisonous influence at the top of county government who was unilaterally despised by county employees; who often confused his role as one of being in the middle of making policy rather than carrying out the decisions of others and who quite unsuccessfully attempted to disgrace current council chairman Johnny Gardner even before Gardner took office.

The vote was 9-2 to end Eldridge’s tenure, with council members Bill Howard and Tyler Servant the odd men out. Gardner did not vote as he participated in the negotiations of the package with Eldridge’s attorney.

Howard’s no vote was for reasons apparently only he can understand. Servant tried to play his ‘guardian of the people’s money’ schtick because of the size of the settlement, never considering how much more it would have cost the county in poor management and personnel decisions to keep Eldridge in place.

Immediately prior to the vote on Eldridge, council voted to defer cancellation of a Financial Participation Agreement with SCDOT for funding of I-73 while “aggressively pursuing” defense of the lawsuit recently brought against the county by Myrtle Beach over hospitality fee collections.

Among other pleadings in the lawsuit, the city requested a permanent injunctions against the county’s ability to collect a countywide 1.5% hospitality fee for its special road fund. A portion of that fund was to be used to fund the agreement with SCDOT.

In addition to the lawsuit, three cities, Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach have moved on to pass ordinances capturing all hospitality and accommodations fees collected within their corporate limits.

Horry County Council Embarrassment Continues

A discussion during last week’s Horry County Council Budget Retreat, about county council hiring its own attorney to represent council only, highlighted the deep rift that continues to plague and embarrass council as long as administrator Chris Eldridge is allowed to remain in his county position.

Council member Al Allen introduced the idea of council hiring an attorney to represent council as a body after referring to actions by county attorney Arrigo Carotti in what now appears to have been a civil conspiracy to keep Chairman Johnny Gardner from taking office.

Carotti authored a five-page memo based entirely on his recollection and interpretation of one or more conversations he had with economic development officials weeks before. The memo described actions and statements that never occurred in attempting to weave a narrative implicating Gardner in possibly illegal actions. In his narrative, Carotti made false statements about other persons in the community, supposedly in connection with Gardner and Barefoot, including yours truly.

The memo was used by Eldridge to request a SLED investigation into Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot. Eldridge’s request to SLED was made on the morning of December 20, 2019 after the Carotti memo had been leaked and published by a Columbia media outlet.

After the memo was leaked and published, Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Davis, the primary source for the Carotti memo according to Carotti, was quoted in several media stories as calling most of the memo “fabricated.”

Carotti and Eldridge were interviewed by SLED investigators on January 7, 2019. The next day, Carotti sent an email to SLED attempting to influence the direction of the investigation and dictating what conclusions should and should not be drawn from it.

SLED found no evidence of impropriety on the part of Gardner and Barefoot during its investigation and Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson announced there was no evidence of criminal activity.

There was nothing documenting or confirming the allegations made in the Carotti memo. It was nothing but recollections about third party conversations he and/or Eldridge had with Davis and the memo was quickly discredited by Davis to both media and SLED investigators