Tag: Gary Loftus

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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County Committee Stops Attempt to Restrict Gun Rights

The latest attempt to restrict the gun rights of Horry County citizens was stopped by a 3-1 No vote of the county’s Public Safety Committee Tuesday.

The vote defeated a motion by county council member Gary Loftus to send a new ordinance to full county council that would have seriously restricted the gun rights of citizens in the unincorporated areas of the county.

The ordinance, as proposed, would have affected a number of gun clubs being able to hunt on their club grounds as well as restricted citizens from hunting on their private property.

In addition, the ordinance proposed to allow individual council members to establish an overlay on their district to restrict gun use in violation of state law.

If passed, it is distinctly possible that citizens in council districts three and four, for example, could not have fired guns anywhere in the district while citizens in, say, districts ten and eleven would have not been affected at all.

Under provisions of equal application of the law, enumerated in state law as well as the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, such restrictions not applied equally throughout the county would be unconstitutional.

I chose council districts three and four in the above example because, according to numerous sources, council members Loftus and Dennis DiSabato worked closely with county attorney Arrigo Carotti in crafting the proposed ordinance.

This is at least the fifth time this issue has come up in the last eight years. Every time it has been strongly opposed by a number of citizens and in council votes.

Last year, local radio talk show host Chad Caton told council it should concentrate on local needs such as infrastructure rather than attempting to infringe on 2nd Amendment rights.

This is doubly true now. The proposed ordinance was so removed from reality to make one wonder why it was even attempted.

The Ninth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, among the most liberal in the nation, recently struck down a California law restricting the size of ammunition magazines. With the inevitable addition of Amy Coney Barrett on the U. S. Supreme Court, there will be a solid conservative 6-3 vote against any attempt to infringe on the rights outlined in the 2nd Amendment.

Brittain Cruises to District 107 Primary Win

Case Brittain is the new Republican nominee for the SC House District 107 seat in the upcoming November general election.

Brittain cruised to an easy victory over former Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride by a 70% – 30% margin.

To call the voter turnout light is to be generous. Brittain garnered less votes in winning than he accumulated on June 9th in a losing effort to then incumbent Alan Clemmons.

The total vote cast in this special primary was approximately one-half the number of voters in the regular primary.

Approximately 5.25% of the registered voters in the district cast votes for Brittain making him the nominee.

The Brittain victory completes a successful primary season for the Myrtle Beach cabal. Every one of their incumbents, Dennis DiSabato, Cam Crawford and Gary Loftus on county council, Heather Crawford and Clemmons, now Brittain, in the House and Luke Rankin in the Senate, won renomination. Brittain became the cabal’s choice after Clemmons resigned his seat in the House.

The coronavirus outbreak made things easier by holding down voting somewhat. When the average voters fail to turn out, the cabal’s core of voters can determine elections.

The normal tricks were pulled out to help Brittain win, Walter Whetsell and his Starboard Communications as consultant, bogus third party PAC to smear McBride and endorsements by other Whetsell clients to make it look like Brittain was earning the endorsements of local elected officials.

What this means is the cabal can set many of the political agendas for the next two years.
Development will continue to run rampant in the county, seriously outstripping the public safety and infrastructure resources needed to support new sub-divisions, all in the name of profit.

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.

Developers Win Primary Elections While Flooding Continues

Recent stories in local news media about homeowners in Socastee asking county council to find solutions to flooding problems in their neighborhoods highlights the effects that will be felt from the results of the recent primary elections for county council and the General Assembly.

The story initially said the station tried to contact Horry County councilman Cam Crawford and he didn’t return calls. Later it was updated to say Crawford would have more to say in four days on the flooding issues.

Crawford did give a statement after a second story appeared in which Socastee homeowners announced a protest scheduled for July 6, 2020 at 8 a.m. in front of the Horry County Courthouse.

Crawford’s statement said he worked with the Department of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard to establish a no wake zone on the Intracoastal Waterway. Crawford also mentioned that the county expected to receive some money from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department to assist in buyouts of flooded homes. Apparently Crawford does not know wake reduction is an erosion control method not a flood control one.

What he did not say is the amount allotted to South Carolina is approximately $157 million to be split among 30 affected counties. Of that amount, approximately $35 million is targeted for home buyouts, again to be apportioned among 30 counties. The home buyouts will be based on a scale in which low income, disabled and other economically disadvantaged families will get preference.

What Crawford also did not say is that the buyout program requires a local match and the county would have to assume new debt to participate in it since the state government was not willing to provide any money in the form of grants from its at least $1.5 billion excess revenue it expects this year.

During Cam’s recent reelection campaign, a mailer was sent out supporting Cam’s reelection with a statement by Tom Mulliken, Chairman of the South Carolina Floodwater Commission. The commission was appointed by Gov. Henry McMaster after Hurricane Florence. Both Cam and his wife, Rep. Heather Crawford have touted their work with the commission as proof they are working on flooding.

Decisions by County Government Determined by Who the Voters Elect

Ultimately the type of government we have is a consequence of those we elect to serve in it.

In Horry County, I submit some of our incumbent council members are the wrong choice. These are charlatans who hold elective office for self-aggrandizing, self-enriching or ego boosting reasons, or some combination thereof.

They are happy to serve themselves, their large campaign donors and those they perceive to be power brokers. The needs of the citizens at large are a rare afterthought.

For decades, the development industry in Horry County has held influence over this type of council member, using that influence to get virtually anything it wanted, including developing wetlands, flood plains and areas without the necessary supporting infrastructure, approved by council.

Three council members up for reelection who fit completely into that mold are Dennis Disabato, Cam Crawford and Gary Loftus, in my opinion. Disabato and Crawford each draw over 50% of their campaign contributions from the development industry. Loftus was appointed to the advisory board of a developer funded institute at Coastal Carolina University that the development donors hoped would “tell their side”, as one of the big donors put it, on any study completed by the institute.

Crawford, Loftus and Disabato strongly supported the reelection of Mark Lazarus two years ago. After Lazarus lost the council chairman seat to Johnny Gardner, they bought into the fictitious plot, devised by former administrator Chris Eldridge, in consultation with Lazarus, to attempt to keep Gardner from taking office.

After a SLED investigation concluded there was nothing to the allegations by Eldridge, these three did everything they could to keep Eldridge in his administrator’s position including a bombastic display by Disabato in a special council meeting held to discuss Eldridge’s future.

They continue to support the Lazarus agenda two years after Lazarus lost a primary for reelection. For example, when Lazarus worked behind the scenes to get an area designated scenic and conservation rezoned for development, Crawford, Loftus and Disabato voted for the rezoning regardless of the potential flooding issues associated with the development.

Council will be making important decisions over the next few years regarding land use regulations, impact fees and improvements to the county’s stormwater management plan. Citizens need council members who will consider the welfare of the county as a whole as these important issues are considered, not ones who consider nothing more than what developers want.

Citizens or Special Interests – County Council Direction Will be Decided by June Primaries

The direction county council will take over the next several years will likely be determined by three contested races in the Republican Primary to be held on June 9, 2020.

Those three races are Horry County Districts 3, 4 and 6, currently held by incumbents Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus and Cam Crawford, respectively. Those three council members have consistently been stooges for the special interests in the county.

DiSabato, Loftus and Crawford were consistent “yes” votes for any initiative former council chairman Mark Lazarus brought to the table. The purchase of approximately 3,700 acres of wetlands off of International for $12 million of taxpayer money is one example that quickly comes to mind.

The parcel purchased by the county was part of a larger parcel purchased by a developer in Virginia years ago. The wetlands couldn’t be developed so the county purchased the land with the purported goal of establishing a wetland mitigation bank to be used when capital projects required mitigation credits for disturbing wetlands. No other parcel in the county was considered, no record of a request for proposals was sent out by the county.

The three stooges voted in lockstep to spend county money for land that was basically useless to the developer for the price of approximately $3,243 per acre.

After Lazarus was defeated for reelection, DiSabato, Crawford and Loftus were charter members for what I dubbed the Deep Six, council members who fought long and hard to keep former county administrator Chris Eldridge in office after Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti lodged groundless accusations of extortion against current chairman Johnny Gardner, who defeated Lazarus, Eldridge’s strongest supporter on council.

Anyone who watched the March 2019 special council meeting, called to remove Eldridge, will recall DiSabato launching into accusations against Gardner after an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) concluded the accusations were without any merit.

The three stooges voted not to fire Eldridge in March, ultimately costing the taxpayers of Horry County $350,000 when council voted to buy out Eldridge’s contract in April 2019 rather than firing him one month before.

DiSabato, Crawford and Loftus have been consistent supporters of having county taxpayers fund construction of Interstate 73. Constructing I-73 remains a major goal of special interests in the county who will benefit financially from construction of the road.

Uneasy Lie the Heads that Wear Incumbency – First Week of Candidate Filing

The coronavirus has not stopped this year’s candidate filing in Horry County from being the most active filing period in the county for many years.

Grand Strand Daily is tracking 22 local races for county offices or local representatives or senators to the General Assembly.

After the first week of filing, which ended yesterday, there are currently 13 contested races of the 22 being tracked and at least two more county council candidates will probably have opposition before filing closes next Monday. If the expected two challengers file in council districts 3 and 4, all five county council seats up for election in this cycle will be contested and all will be Republican primary contests.

One incumbent council member, Paul Prince in District 9, is retiring and four candidates, including Prince’s son, are contesting the Republican primary for that seat. The other four incumbent council members up for reelection are Cam Crawford and Danny Hardee, who already have opponents filed to challenge them and Dennis DiSabato and Gary Loftus, who are expected to have opponents by the end of filing.

The main reason county council is drawing so much attention is a feeling among voters that incumbent council members are only listening to the development community that funds their campaigns and voters’ concerns about flooding and rapid development are being ignored. (See the image at the end of this post, which has been making its way around Facebook, with the heads of the four incumbents inserted).

On the state level, voters are tired of being donors to the rest of the state while road and flooding problems in particular are not being addressed and most incumbents are content with sound bites and photo ops rather than trying to address solutions.

Four incumbents who, I believe, will face particularly serious challenges are state Reps. Alan Clemmons and Heather Ammons Crawford, Sen. Luke Rankin and county council member Cam Crawford. They are being opposed by Case Brittain, Mark Epps, John Gallman and Jeremy Halpin, respectively.

If the expected challengers emerge against DiSabato and Loftus, those races will be hotly contested also.