Tag: Horry County Budget

Shell Game Continues for I-73 Funding

The Horry County Administration Committee will vote today on a resolution dedicating a portion of annual hospitality fee collections to funding Interstate 73 construction within Horry County.
The effort to commit county dollars to Interstate 73 is being heavily pushed by county council member Dennis DiSabato.
A member of the Infrastructure and Regulation Committee, DiSabato failed to get the resolution on last month’s I&R Committee agenda. DiSabato received a much more sympathetic result from Admin Committee chairman Johnny Vaught after approaching Vaught on including the resolution on the Admin Committee agenda.
Regardless of the vote from the Admin Committee, a positive vote is expected, the resolution will go forward to full council for consideration next week. This is the latest ploy in attempting to commit county funding to the Interstate 73 project before any other government entity at the local, state or federal level commits to providing funding for I-73.
The story being spread to other council members is the resolution, if passed, does not commit the county to anything because it’s only a resolution stating the will of the current council to fund the road project.
That is not entirely true. If the resolution is approved by full council, it would be a direction to county staff to include dedication of $4.2 million of hospitality fee revenues to I-73 in next year’s county budget. Once such a dedication is included in the budget, it will be much more difficult to remove that line item during budget discussions and would serve as the impetus to approve a similar appropriation in succeeding budgets especially considering the pressure the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and its cronies continue to bring to local councils to fund I-73.
Last month the Chamber promoted the idea of having local governments in Horry County commit to providing a total of $250 million in funding for I-73. The idea was promoted that such a commitment from governments in Horry County could then be taken to the state government with a request for an additional $500 million in state funding for the project. The combined $750 million in commitments would then be taken to the federal government to request funding to complete the project.
Current estimates to complete construction of I-73 from its connection with SC-22 to connection with I-95 in Dillon run in the $1.5-2 billion range.
State and federal funding for the project remain highly questionable. The state government recently committed hundreds of millions of dollars received from the federal government in Covid relief funds to expanding Interstate 26 to six lanes between Charleston and Columbia. To date, not one dime of that money has been committed to construction of I-73.

Team Horry Self Imploding as Primary Voting Nears

(Above picture represents Team Horry campaigns teetering)

Team Horry, the self-styled moniker by which a few of the Horry County Council members up for reelection this year like refer to themselves, appears in complete disarray a little over one week before primary voting.

It started as a plan for council members to appear as a group on opening day to file candidate papers together followed by a press conference of mutual support and praise for the ‘great’ job they are doing.

That plan never quite came together and it started a trend of events never quite coming off as planned throughout this primary season.

A seemingly insurmountable obstacle for team togetherness occurred several days ago when Horry County Council Vice Chairman Bill Howard went toe-to-toe with Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune over plans the city has for food trucks during the summer tourist season.

Howard, a local restaurateur in real life, lectured the mayor that he believes the food trucks will negatively impact business at his restaurants.

The result of the confrontation was the following post by Bethune on Facebook:

“I am human and far from perfect. I try to communicate with others in a way that makes them feel respected and safe. Today I was truly disheartened by the disrespectful tone and threat that was issued to me by the vice chair of our County Council. He represents EVERYONE in this County and as an elected official should practice civil communication in all matters. May I never think so highly of myself that I try to make others feel low. Here’s an idea: we all need to show mutual respect to each other in order to work together for the greater good of those we serve.”

Howard represents Horry County Council District 2, which includes the City of Myrtle Beach north end beginning at 38th Avenue North. This area happens to include the core of voters who catapulted Bethune to election as mayor last November.

It is also the home district of county council chairman Mark Lazarus.

As Shakespeare would say – “Therein lies the rub.”

Enhancement for Fire and EMS Personnel Missing from Horry County Budget

CORRECTION CORRECTION
I received a call from Mark Lazarus this morning. Lazarus informed me that I was incorrect in what I reported about Fire and EMS enhancements. After reviewing the tape of the Spring Budget Retreat, before first reading of the budget during the Spring Budget Retreat, council voted to amend the budget to include the extra three percent increase for fire fighters from the county’s Fire Fund and I originally reported it incorrectly below as not being in the budget. I did not see any amendment to appropriate general fund money for the EMS workers. Lazarus informed me that the EMS increase is also in the budget from first reading on and he took exception to my use of the word retribution.

From: Powell, Justin Sent: Monday, May 21, 2018 10:51 AM
To: Mark Lazarus
Cc: Eldridge, Chris ; Spivey, Barry ; Huffman, Joe
Subject: FW: Budget Ordinance Proposed Vs. 1st Reading Revised for 2nd Reading

Mark:

The second reading ordinance adopted by County Council included all proposed increases for public safety, both law enforcement and Fire and Rescue. The first reading ordinance initially proposed to County Council included the $1/hour increase for all law enforcement (Police, Sheriff, Detention). Hence, no amendment was required.

During adoption of first reading on March 23, a motion was made to adopt the Fire and Rescue increases that were proposed on March 22. This is found at approximately 1:49:00 on the video from that day. Given that amendment, the second reading ordinance submitted to County Council included the increase for Fire and Rescue as adopted by County Council.

Bottleneck Hampers Horry County Budget Process

There appears to be a bottleneck at the top of the Horry County budget process that may not be serving the citizens in the best possible fashion.

Early every calendar year, the various county departments submit budget proposals for their respective departments to senior county staff.

Senior staff then prepares a draft budget that becomes the document discussed at county council’s spring budget retreat and traditionally gets first reading at that time.

After the basic document is prepared, the various department heads meet with the committee that oversees policy for that department and attempt to make a case for the budget they prepared early in the year.

But, the working budget document has already been prepared by senior staff before those meetings and senior staff owns and jealously guards that document. Getting changes into it, other than those council itself may dictate, is difficult to say the least.

This process led to the lawsuit that Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones filed against Horry County Government and Administrator Chris Eldridge last fall.

Even though Jones was elected in November 2016 and would take office at the beginning of the fiscal year which began July 1, 2017, she was not allowed to participate in last year’s budget process.

When Jones got into office, she determined there was a need for several more employees in her department. She went before the county’s Administration Committee late last summer requesting just one more employee to get her department through the year. That request denied leading Jones to file suit.

The county’s answer to Jones’ complaint in the lawsuit was to attack her personally and to claim she was mishandling her duties and department.

The lawsuit between Jones and the county is ongoing, but the county is now preparing for a new budget to begin July 1, 2018.

Jones appeared before the Administration Committee earlier this week. According to information presented at the meeting, county staff had budgeted a mere $20,000 additional in operating expenses for the Treasurer’s Office next year over the current year’s budget.

Horry County’s Election Year Budget

Horry County Council’s recent budget workshop provided an interesting view into budget making in an election year.

County employees will receive what is being called a “three percent across the board merit raise.” In a countywide election, the county’s employees can account for thousands of votes including their families and friends.

In addition, ways to fund additional raises for public safety personnel are being considered. Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus has proposed an additional $1 per hour raise for all Level 1, 2 and 3 police officers, Sheriff’s deputies and detention officers, which, if approved, will bring their respective raise amount to nearly 10 percent across the board.

Lazarus also proposed an additional three percent across the board raise (six percent total) for firefighters and EMS personnel.

The proposed public safety raise percentages were billed as necessary for “retention” of personnel, but it is interesting this consideration only seems to come up every four years or so when the council chairman is up for re-election.

Even more interesting is the fact that this increase in the public safety budget will not add any additional personnel despite the growing population of the county, which causes an increased demand for services.

Council member Harold Worley proposed using some of the excess hospitality tax revenue that the county will begin experiencing next year, currently estimated at $40 million per year, for increasing the number of police and fire personnel. County council already passed an ordinance stipulating continued collection of full Hospitality Tax after Ride I bonds are paid off.

Lazarus, who wants to use that money for I-73 construction, was heard to utter “not going to happen” at Worley’s suggestion.

One only has to consider the nearly $12 million of excess Ride II tax collections that recently was used to purchase approximately 3,729 acres of swamp land under the guise of establishing a wetlands mitigation bank in the county. That purchase literally came out of nowhere with little explanation to full council before it was approved.

If council is unwilling to return those excess tax revenues to the citizens who paid them, it certainly seems those excesses would be better spent on items that benefit the largest number of citizens rather than on the wishes of a few at the top of county government. The voices of average citizens need to be heard.

Primary Filing Opens But Do Campaigns Mean Anything?

Filing opened last Friday for candidates in the upcoming June 12, 2018 Republican and Democrat party primary elections. Filing for candidates will close at noon Friday March 30, 2018.

The biggest name filing for re-election on the first day was Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.

We will now see three months of campaigning, led by incumbents to convince the voters to continue their time in office.

But, have the incumbents really served the needs of the people or worked for other agendas?

Unfortunately “fake” is the political environment of today. Most politicians occupy a fake reality where they say one thing when campaigning, do another when in office and cry “fake news” and attempt to change the narrative when their duplicity is pointed out. It often works because voters do not have the time or desire to acquaint themselves with the issues and, instead, rely on sound bites for their information.

The few who try to stick to the facts and have a reasonable discussion of the issues are too often defeated because of their honesty.

Four years ago, Lazarus committed to the voters to “Oppose new taxes” on his Lazarusforchair.com website under issues.

This commitment quickly went by the wayside. After being re-elected, Lazarus became the biggest proponent on council for raising taxes with the largest tax increase in Horry County history resulting. Property taxes were raised 7.2 mills and the annual vehicle fee paid to the county was raised from $30 to $50 per vehicle.

To sell the tax increase it was billed as an increase for public safety. Voters bought into this narrative during budget discussions only to be fooled after the tax increase was approved. As councilman Harold Worley said at the time, “Not one penny of the tax increase will go toward putting one extra officer on the street. Response times will not go down nor will community policing increase because of the tax increase.”

Worley was correct in his assessment. What most voters didn’t know was the tax increase was the result of a huge outcry by county employees after County Administrator Chris Eldridge received a large pay increase from council between first and second reading of the budget. A large portion of the “public safety” tax increase went to a pay increase for all county employees, not to improve public safety.

Horry County Council Wastes Excess Ride II Funds

Tonight, Horry County Council will consider second reading and public review of an ordinance to use leftover Ride II funds for public safety radios.

That’s correct. In 2006, county council asked voters to tax themselves an extra penny on purchases in order to build or improve roads in the county.

Now that funds are leftover, council is trying to make up for years of ill-considered decisions about radios for the public safety division.

There doesn’t seem to be one budget year that goes by without millions of dollars of requests for new radios and supporting equipment.

Next year, Motorola, the manufacturer the county has used for a number of years, will stop supporting the radio system currently used by the county, causing the latest funding crisis.

State law allows capital projects sales tax excess funds to go into the county’s general fund to be spent as council decides.

However, we live in a county that just raised the road maintenance tax by 67% a few months ago. This will add approximately $3 million dollars per year to road maintenance and dirt road paving.

Coast RTA Funding in Jeopardy

Funding for Coast RTA was almost removed from the Horry County budget for next fiscal year during last week’s Horry County Council budget retreat.

A motion to remove funding from Coast RTA was made and seconded and was only stopped by the intervention of council chairman Mark Lazarus.

Lazarus convinced his fellow council members the most recent Coast RTA update on its funding agreement with Horry County should be heard by the Administration Committee before a vote to remove the agency funding is considered.

Horry County Budget Workshop Next Week

Horry County Council will begin deliberations for its FY 2016 Horry County budget next Friday at a workshop and specially called council meeting.

Now that elections are over and several new council members are poised to join the governing body in the new year, we will see just how “conservative” our heavily Republican contingent on council really is.

My guess is the cronyism that has justified what I consider wasteful council spending in certain areas will continue to manifest itself.

Crunch Time on Horry County Budget – Updated

Third reading of the Fiscal Year 2014-15 Horry County budget could provide some interesting viewing at tonight’s meeting of Horry County Council.

Central to the discussions will be a new funding agreement with Coast RTA, which will tighten council control over the money it provides Coast RTA, but not nearly to the extent that was called “overreaching” by several council members earlier this month.

Also of concern to some council members is the “hidden tax increase” included in the millage rollup associated with last year’s reassessment of property values throughout the county.
Property values showed a net decline due to the housing bubble bust several years ago and a slight increase in millage was needed to balance next year’s county budget.