Tag: Johnny Gardner

Horry County Council Rejects I-73 Funding

By a 6-5 vote, Horry County Council, at its regular meeting Tuesday night, rejected a proposal to dedicate $4.2 million per year for 30 years from hospitality fee revenue to the construction of Interstate 73.
The margin was one vote, but it wasn’t that close. It was a clear demonstration that six members of council are solid in their determination to vote in the interests of the citizens not special interests.
The vote was a clear defeat for council members Johnny Vaught and Dennis DiSabato, the two on council who drank the Chamber Kool-Aid and spearheaded the effort to dedicate funding to I-73. It wasn’t their idea, but Vaught and DiSabato agreed to ‘carry the water’ for the Chamber and its cronies in this latest effort to obtain local funding for the road. They spilled most of that water.
The question now is, have Vaught and DiSabato destroyed any hope for the Chamber to secure local funding for its pet project?
The effort to secure funding for I-73 from countywide hospitality fees has been four and one-half years in the making. It began in Spring 2017 when former council chairman Mark Lazarus convinced county council to remove the sunset provision from the county ordinance establishing hospitality fee collection.
Lazarus next tried to convince council to dedicate the entire approximately $45 million annual revenue from countywide hospitality fees to fund construction of I-73. However, the people were beginning to be heard as their rejection of Lazarus for reelection in 2018 demonstrated, and Lazarus, in his final days in office, was only able to push through authorization for the county to enter into a funding agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation for up to $25 million per year from hospitality fees for I-73 construction.
That funding agreement was immediately challenged by a lawsuit brought by the cities against the county and the agreement was cancelled by county council in late 2019 with no money having ever been sent to SCDOT.
The settlement of that lawsuit included vague language that the county and the cities would work together to try and find alternative means of providing local funding for I-73.
After a break due to the uncertainties of the effects of Covid on local governments, a small group reportedly consisting of Chamber officials, state Rep. Case Brittain, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley and DiSabato began meeting last summer to concoct a new local funding plan for I-73.
The spin at the time was dedicated funding from local governments could be taken to the S. C. General Assembly to lobby for state funds to be appropriated to I-73 construction and that resulting package could be taken to Washington to lobby for federal funds.
That entire concept seems to be upside down logic. Why should local governments be the first to dedicate funding for an interstate highway in an attempt to convince the state and feds they should contribute?

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Horry County Council Members Face Choice on I-73 Funding Resolution – Listen to Voters or Donors?

Horry County Council will vote tonight on a resolution to dedicate funding from locally collected hospitality fees to construction of Interstate 73.
This latest attempt at I-73 funding comes on the heels of a visit last week by Gov. Henry McMaster to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce at which the governor announced his proposed funding plan for the road.
The governor proposed a plan that included $795 million from state funds, $430 million from federal funds and $350 million in total funds from Horry County, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. None of the funds have been appropriated and the sources are generally unidentified.
The governor could not give promises the funds from the state would be appropriated. The only thing he could do was tell the gathering he would ask the General Assembly to appropriate the funds he recommended.
Additionally, none of the state funds will be spent in Horry County. They will be spent in Dillon and Marion counties, according to the governor’s plan. Horry County residents are expected to fund construction of I-73 within the county on their own.
Information from the S. C. Department of Transportation is there are no funds currently available for construction of a new highway. To further complicate the funding problem, the state is on notice from the U. S. Department of Transportation that it must upgrade Interstate 95 from the North Carolina border to the Georgia border. Included in the requirements from the federal government are additional lanes and bridge repair/replacement, all of which are extremely costly items.
SCDOT said the I-95 improvements are the number one project for the agency since failure to meet the federal requirements would cost the state federal highway funds.
After the governor’s visit, the Horry County Administration Committee held a special meeting, called by committee chairman Johnny Vaught, to approve the resolution the council will vote on tonight.
The obvious question for county council tonight is, with 77% of the governor’s proposed funding for Interstate 73 (the state and federal portions) unidentified and unappropriated, and neither Myrtle Beach nor North Myrtle Beach to date having committed funds, why the rush for the county to pass its resolution?
Despite an alleged Chamber poll, which supposedly said 82% of 405 statewide voters responding supported construction of I-73. The internals of the poll have never been released by the Chamber and there is significant reason to believe no such poll exists because it is very difficult to find any voters in Horry County who support spending local raised tax revenue to build the road.
The lack of voter support was demonstrated by a reader poll conducted by a local media outlet recently which showed 67% of those responding did not want local tax funds to be spent on I-73 construction.

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Reasons Behind Russell Fry’s Deafening Silence on I-73 Funding Controversy

(The above picture shows voter response to a request to raise their hands to show support for I-73)

State Rep. Russell Fry, an announced candidate in the upcoming SC 7th Congressional District Republican primary, has been deafeningly silent during the last week’s controversy over funding for the Interstate 73 project.
When Fry announced his candidacy, he said, like incumbent Congressman Tom Rice, he strongly supported the construction of I-73.
During the last week, we have seen an eruption of controversy surrounding a promised visit tomorrow by Governor Henry McMaster to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce headquarters to make an important announcement on I-73.
First, it was reported by local media that McMaster would announce he was giving $300 million to the I-73 project. Local politicians who want Chamber associated funding for their campaigns such as, county council members Johnny Vaught and Dennis DiSabato, state Rep. Case Brittain, state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch and Rice himself, quickly committed to attending McMaster’s Chamber announcement. All praised McMaster for committing money to I-73. Fry was conspicuous by his silence.
Vaught and DiSabato went one step further. After a DiSabato authored resolution for the county to dedicate $4.2 million per year for 30 years to I-73 was deferred until October 26th by the county’s Administration Committee, which is chaired by Vaught, a special meeting of the committee was called by Vaught for this coming Tuesday to again attempt to pass the resolution. The excuse given for the special called meeting was with the governor bringing $300 million for I-73, it was time for the county to step up with local funding for the road.
However, the two most important people for state appropriations and local appropriations for I-73, Speaker of the House Jay Lucas and County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner, will not be at the Chamber/McMaster event, according to sources I have spoken to.
There are additional problems with the above narrative. The governor cannot commit any funding for I-73. The best he can do is request the SC General Assembly to do so. The county committee can only recommend the entire county council vote to approve funding for I-73.
The $300 million announced is $200 million short of the $500 million a group, reportedly consisting of Brittain, the Chamber, DiSabato and city mayors Brenda Bethune and Marilyn Hatley, said they would seek from the state two weeks ago. The group also requested local governments, primarily the county council along with Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach city councils, to commit a total of $250 million in locally collected tax and fee revenue to I-73. That number is now being reported in media as closer to $180 million.

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Chamber and Governor Mull Press Conference to Announce I-73 Funding with No Funding Approved

The latest effort by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to make construction of Interstate 73 a viable project in the minds of the voters of Horry County took several bizarre twists yesterday.
A brief recap:
In recent weeks, the Chamber has promoted the idea that a mysterious poll of voters in South Carolina (405 in all) showed 82% of those responding favored construction of I-73. The actual questions and responses have never been revealed, just questionable results.
The poll announcement was followed by news that Chamber President and CEO Karen Riordan, state Rep. Case Brittain, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune and Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato were working on a $750 million funding package for the I-73 project that included $250 in funding from local governments and $500 million from the state. It was announced that the governments of Horry County, the City of Myrtle Beach and the City of North Myrtle Beach would approve their respective portions of the $250 million funding package by the end of this month.
Monday it was announced that the Horry County Administration Committee would vote the next day on a resolution to dedicate $4.2 million per year, for up to 30 years, to the I-73 project from county hospitality fee revenue. That vote, however, was postponed until at least October 26 after a short executive session by committee members on Tuesday.
Tuesday evening Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner was informed that Gov. Henry McMaster would hold a press conference Monday October 4, 2021, at the Myrtle Beach Chamber offices to announce the state was committing $300 million to I-73 construction. (There was no explanation of why alleged state funding was reduced from the $500 million announced by Brittain to the $300 million over a two-week span.)
Now the bizarre:
According to a number of sources familiar with events, word began to spread from Riordan to local politicians yesterday that the governor would be coming to Myrtle Beach on Monday to make an announcement about I-73 funding.
Unless the state government receives specifically earmarked funds for I-73 from the federal government, the governor cannot order any state agency to spend money on the project. Appropriations must receive voting approval from the General Assembly.
State legislators, from around the state, contacted by Grand Strand Daily, said the news that Gov. McMaster was going to announce funding from the state for I-73 was a surprise since the General Assembly had not approved nor even considered any such appropriation.

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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.

Richardson Listens to Voters on I-73 Issue

As a new push begins for local funding of the Interstate 73 project, Horry County School Board Chairman and 7th Congressional District candidate Ken Richardson has taken a novel approach on the I-73 issue.
Over the past several days, local media has highlighted I-73 propaganda statements by local politicians who, along with the special interests who fund their campaigns, search for $250 million in local government revenue to pledge to the I-73 project.
Interstate 73 has always had a top-down sales approach to voters. Special interests and their PACs, who believe they will gain financially in some way from the construction of I-73, fund the campaign chests of local politicians who then become spokespersons trying to convince voters that I-73 is actually for their (the voters) benefit.
Richardson has taken a different approach. As he travels around Horry County and the other seven counties that make up the 7th Congressional District, Richardson asks voters whether they support the construction of I-73.
“I have given over 50 speeches to groups as small as 6 to as large as 120 since I announced my challenge to Tom Rice for the Republican nomination for the 7th Congressional District,” Richardson said. “During every speech, I ask for a show of hands from those in attendance who support I-73. So far, in all those events, only one hand has been raised.”
Richardson spoke of one woman at an event in Florence. “She said to me, ‘we always hear how interstates will bring new jobs. Well, we already have two interstates in Florence and we haven’t seen 300 new jobs in the last 10 years.’”
Richardson said a common theme he hears is that local governments and the state government should fix the roads and bridges they already have in place rather than building a new road that won’t be maintained either.
The I-73 project has been a subject of discussion by special interests and the politicians they donate to for at least 30 years. It ramped up nearly 20 years ago when Brad Dean took over the reins of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
Horry County has already spent over one-half billion dollars of locally generated hospitality fee (tax) revenues building SC-22. The last approximately 22 miles of I-73 will be on SC-22 from near the 319 exit to the terminus in the Briarcliffe Acres area. SC-22 will need some upgrading on the shoulders to meet interstate highway standards.

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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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