Tag: Horry County Council

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 Impact Fees Pass Unanimous Second Reading

Horry County Council is one step closer to imposing impact fees on new construction in the unincorporated areas of the county after unanimously passing second reading of an ordinance establishing those fees Tuesday night.
This is at least the fourth time in the past two decades that impact fees have been discussed by council. In the past, the development lobby has been successful in shutting down impact fees discussions before the issue got too far along in the legislative process.
Circumstances are different this time. Construction, especially of single-family homes, is red hot in the county and gives no signs of slowing down in the immediate future. Similar homes in similar type developments that were being advertised at mid-100s to high-100s last year are now being advertised in the mid-200s. That is approximately $250,000 for the average single-family home being constructed presently in a subdivision.
Some of that increase is due to the cost of building materials which have gone up by as much as four times in the case of lumber over the last 12 months. But profits for the developers have also been rising as the demand for new housing in the county continues to outpace the supply.
During past discussions, developers have been successful with the argument that impact fees would significantly increase the cost of a new home, driving down demand thereby causing high unemployment among the construction industry workers.
That argument does not hold water at this time even though it is being tried again and appears to have a sympathetic ear from a few council members.
Council member Dennis DiSabato attempted unsuccessfully to delay second reading of the ordinance by calling for a new committee to study the issue further. Council member Harold Worley, the most vocal supporter of impact fees during the discussion, said a vote to delay was a “kill pill” and the time had come to vote the ordinance up or down.
Council member Cam Crawford was more vocal and animated during the impact fee discussion than he has been in total in all the other council meetings and discussions over his nearly six years on council. Crawford’s voice and facial expressions clearly demonstrated his distaste for impact fees (or at least the distaste of those who have his ear).
In the end, however, neither DiSabato nor Crawford nor any other member of council voted against the ordinance.

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Horry County Impact Fee Discussion Moves Forward

Horry County Council is expected Tuesday night to have second reading on an ordinance establishing impact fees on new construction.
Council held a workshop on impact fees Thursday with a view to having some parameters for what the new fee would cost.
There has been discussion about impact fees in Horry County for most of the last two decades. Two years ago, an advisory referendum showed three out of four voters supported establishment of impact fees on new construction.
Predictably those in the development industry have fought establishment of impact fees. To date, that industry has been successful in holding the fees off.
However, a number of cities and counties in South Carolina have established impact fees in the nearly twenty-year interim they have been under periodic discussion in Horry County.
One engineer predicted a $6,000 impact fee would stop half the business currently with his firm. This, however, seems a ridiculous statement when the cost of lumber has quadrupled in the last 12 months and construction hasn’t slowed at all in Horry County due to the increase in cost.
Long time county residents have been remarking recently that new home prices have reached ridiculous levels in the county. But new homes are still selling at record levels.
Any cost to the developer and builder winds up on the final purchase price of the home. Impact fees can be thought of as a tax that will be paid by purchasers of new homes to help fund the increased level of government goods and services additional homes and their residents require.
The question for council is who should pay for these increased demands on county government and how much should be paid.
Council member Harold Worley said during the Thursday discussion that $4,500 (impact fee) is not going to slow down development one bit. He noted failure to pass an impact fee ordinance could result in a tax increase of 13.2 mils to residents of the unincorporated areas of the county in the future. Council will vote on third reading of a budget ordinance that increases taxes 7.6 mils in the unincorporated areas of the county next year with additional rises in stormwater and solid waste fees.

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Rice’s Failure to Deliver for his 7th Congressional District Constituents

It has been six months since the day Tom Rice’s political career changed.
The January 6th disturbance at the U. S. Capitol building led to Rice’s ‘vote of conscience’ one week later to impeach former President Donald Trump.
Rice’s vote to impeach changed the political landscape in his South Carolina 7th Congressional District as Rice was immediately attacked by a large majority of his former supporters for casting that vote.
At the time, Rice’s campaign consultant Walter Whetsell downplayed the outcry against his five-time candidate as something that would fade in a couple of weeks. However, rather than fading in the six-month interim, the opposition to Rice has only grown.
At least 10 Republican challengers to Rice’s nomination for a sixth term as the Congressman from the South Carolina Seventh have already registered with the Federal Election Commission. In the eyes of most Republicans, the 7th Congressional District is being treated as an open seat rather than one with a five term Congressman in place with all the advantages of incumbency.
But, it is not only Rice’s vote to impeach Trump that will cause him trouble in the June 2022 Republican Primary, should he choose to run. He has no record of producing results for the citizens of the 7th Congressional District despite being in his fifth term as their representative.
When Rice first campaigned for the new 7th Congressional District seat in 2012, his two main issues were “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” and “Interstate 73”. He has failed on both issues.
Horry County, Rice’s home county and the location of a full 50% of the Republican voters throughout the district, has experienced no job growth attributable to Rice’s efforts in his four plus terms in Congress.
This comes as no real surprise. In his two years as chairman of Horry County Council before being elected to the 7th Congressional District seat, Rice promoted jobs as a major issue. Working with the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, Rice’s two prime efforts for creating new jobs during those two years were “Avcraft” and “Project Blue”.
Avcraft was an aircraft completion and services company that had relocated to Horry County in 2004 with promises of 400-600 new jobs. After six years of failure to produce any new jobs in Horry County, Avcraft received one more stimulus package from the county with Rice leading and promoting the effort. Not only were no new jobs forthcoming, Avcraft finally bowed to the inevitable and filed for bankruptcy in 2014.
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County Council Must Make Hard Decisions on Budget

Two weeks after voting to defer second reading of the county budget for fiscal year 2021-22, Horry County Council will again consider second reading at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
How to pay for growth and who should pay for it will again be at the center of the council’s considerations.
Council rejected a staff proposal for a 2 mill increase in the county general fund, a 2.5 mill increase in the county fire fund, a 3 mill increase in the county solid waste convenience center fund and a $45 per year increase in the county stormwater fee two weeks ago.
According to several sources, county staff has come up with four possible options for council consideration Tuesday.
At one extreme is the proposal that council rejected. At the opposite extreme, reportedly is a small tax increase to help the convenience center fund.
The answer will probably lie somewhere between the two extremes.
While there is no doubt that the rapid growth currently being experienced and expected to continue in residential construction is straining county resources, the question of raising taxes on every taxpayer in the county to fund increased goods and services is a sticking point.
This is especially true when considering the hospitality fee money that was freed up with the settlement of the lawsuit with Myrtle Beach (approximately $26 million), with the money coming from the federal government American Rescue Plan (approximately $34 million per year for two years) and from impact fees should the council pass an impact fee ordinance after its scheduled June 10, 2021 workshop on impact fees.
It’s difficult to raise taxes when there is a spare $60 million in the bank with another $34 million promised next year and a new potential revenue resource from impact fees.
Here is where the discussion comes down to who is calling the shots in the county. County staff constantly warns against spending what it calls one-time money such as the hospitality fee and federal government money on recurring expenses such as funding increases for police and fire personnel.
There is nothing wrong with that logic in static times. However, staff reportedly has designs on the entire $60 million one-time money available this year for its own ‘wish list,’ another way of saying increase the size of the bureaucracy.

County Council Will Ask Voters’ Permission to Raise Taxes

A strong majority of Horry County Council was unwilling Tuesday night to vote for a significant increase in taxes and fees without hearing from county voters.
Council voted to defer second reading of the county’s budget ordinance until June 1. In the interim, county staff will be putting together two ballot questions, one for a countywide 2 mill tax increase and the other for an additional 2.5 mill tax increase and an addition of $45 in stormwater fees for the unincorporated areas of the county.
The questions will be put to voters throughout the county in an advisory referendum special election scheduled for August 17, 2021. Voters in the cities will only be voting on the countywide tax increase while voters in the unincorporated areas of the county will vote on both questions.
The basics of the budget now being held in abeyance calls for a 3 mill tax increase in the unincorporated areas of the county to add revenue for the operation of the county’s solid waste convenience centers.
County staff proposed budget enhancements (additions) Tuesday night that call for a further 2 mill tax increase countywide to pay for police, E911, EMS and court security additions of personnel as well as a pay increase for all county employees. In addition, staff proposed an additional 2.5 mill increase in the unincorporated areas of the county to fund increases in fire services and a doubling of stormwater fees in the unincorporated areas from the current $44.40 per year per household to $89.40 per year per household (a $45 per year increase).
If both questions are approved by voters, taxpayers in the unincorporated areas of the county will see a 7.5 mill tax increase plus a $45 fee increase on their fall tax bills. Taxpayers residing in the cities will see an additional 2 mills of county tax added to their tax bills.
Staff was also directed by council to determine if the increases could be offset somewhat with the hospitality fee money that was freed up with the settlement of the lawsuit with Myrtle Beach (approximately $26 million), with the money coming from the federal government American Rescue Plan (approximately $34 million per year for two years) and from impact fees should the council pass an impact fee ordinance after its scheduled June 10, 2021 workshop on impact fees.
Growth and its impacts on infrastructure and services has caught up with Horry County, some may say surpassed. Numerous studies conducted throughout the United States over the years conclude that a growth rate of over 1.5-2 percent per year cannot be paid for by the new tax revenue generated by that growth. Staff said growth was estimated to be 5 percent this year with an average of 3.25 percent estimated over the next five years.

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Gagging of Al Allen Points to Deeper Issues in County

Last week’s premature adjournment of the county council meeting in order to gag council member Al Allen’s requested discussion of county legal fees allowed deeper issues inside the government and county to come to the surface.
A simple request from Allen for county legal fees paid to outside attorneys has been blown up into a supposed politically motivated conspiracy, according to a report in a local media outlet. Two “county officials” speaking on conditions of anonymity, according to the story, put forth a theory alleging a plot to fire County Administrator Steve Gosnell and County Attorney Arrigo Carotti was the reason for Allen’s request.
And make no mistake, the information Allen requested and which was ultimately provided to Allen, other council members (although many of those other members saw the information well before it was produced to Allen) and the media is definitely public information.
According to statements in local media, County Attorney Arrigo Carotti brought Allen’s request for the information on legal fees to council member Johnny Vaught. The excuse Vaught gave to the media was Carotti did that because the legal department budget falls within the oversight of the county Administration Committee of which Vaught is chairman.
Vaught told media he had concern that county legal strategies could be discussed and he didn’t want that sensitive information to become public. I would submit that type of information is already public.
If someone wants to assess legal strategy in any lawsuit, they can go online to the judicial records to read the complaint, response, motions and responses, depositions and view the exhibits associated with the case. All of that information becomes open to the public the minute it is filed with the court. A person is going to gain a lot more information about legal strategy from those documents than from records of how much in legal fees was paid and to whom it was paid.
Vaught’s entire premise that he was attempting to protect privileged information is ridiculous. But the ensuing rhetoric which evolved around the issue and the players involved point to deeper intent.
The real story is the one involving those who said the information requested by Allen should not be released publicly and who created a false narrative in an attempt to publicly embarrass Allen and, later, council Chairman Johnny Gardner.

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DiSabato Motion Ends County Council Meeting Prior to Discussion of Legal Fees

Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato moved to adjourn council’s regular meeting last night before a discussion of county legal fees by council could take place. Council agenda listed the request for the discussion was initiated by council member Al Allen.
There is no question that a discussion of how much and to who the county pays fees for outside attorney assistance is public information. In a lawsuit two years ago, the county agreed that disclosure of legal fees ”is not legally privileged, is not exempt from disclosure under FOIA, and that it is important to the public interest that this information be available to the citizens and taxpayers of Horry County.”
Council voted 8-4 to adjourn the meeting with chairman Johnny Gardner and council members Allen, Harold Worley and Tyler Servant voting No.
Prematurely ending the meeting was the only parliamentary maneuver available to keep discussion of county legal fees from taking place in the meeting. Coming as it did immediately prior to the scheduled discussion makes it appear that DiSabato’s erratic behavior in bringing the motion was prompted by an ulterior motive for not wanting the discussion to take place publicly from the council dais.
This is not the first time DiSabato has exhibited erratic behavior with respect to issues associated with the county legal department.
In December 2018, county attorney Arrigo Carotti authored a five-page memorandum attempting to allege that then council chairmen elect Johnny Gardner had acted in an unethical manner with respect to a discussion held with the executive director of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.
The memo was quickly leaked to a Columbia media outlet who reported the allegations.
The memorandum was sent to SLED by then county administrator Chris Eldridge. SLED conducted an investigation into the allegations which completely exonerated Gardner from any wrongdoing.
While the investigation was underway, Carotti sent an email to SLED which appeared to be an attempt to influence how the investigation was being conducted.

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