The proposed settlement agreement presented to county council at its regular meeting Tuesday night appears to have many serious flaws, according to information gathered by Grand Strand Daily.
Council member Harold Worley vented his frustration with the settlement agreement during the council meeting. His complaint was having attorney fees of approximately $7 million come off the top of an approximately $20 million the settlement award if the lawsuit is settled as a class action.
The $20 million was collected from a countywide 1.5% hospitality fee collected between the date the bonds were paid off in February 2019 until June 30, 2019. Worley’s statement is based on a 1/3 contingency fee to be paid off the top of the settlement amount to the attorneys representing the cities.
The basic claim in the original lawsuit was that Horry County illegally collected a 1.5% countywide hospitality fee since January 1, 2017. The fee was collected with the agreement of the cities for an initial 20 year period beginning January 1, 1997, in order to pay off bonds issued to pay for the initial RIDE road projects.
The county first extended collection of the fee until the bonds were paid off and, later, in perpetuity. The cities allege they did not give approval for the extensions which prevents the county from legally collecting the fee in their respective taxing jurisdictions. However, the cities apparently dropped a claim for fees used to pay off the bonds between January 1, 2017 and February 2019.
But that money is not the cities to claim, a fact GSD first reported last spring when the lawsuit was filed. It is not the cities’ money. It is not the county’s money. It is taxpayer money.
If it were held the county did illegally collect hospitality fees after the bonds were paid off, any rebates of tax revenue would be owed to the people from whom the taxes were collected, not the cities in which the fee was collected.
Hospitality fees are collected by vendors at point of sale and remitted monthly directly to the county in accordance with the provisions of state law. The cities are not involved in the collection process at all, nor is it their money being collected.