Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune sent a letter to Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner last week rejecting public negotiations on a county plan for splitting hospitality fees.
Myrtle Beach wanted to hold any negotiations in secret using a lawsuit the city filed against the county last month over hospitality fee collection as the excuse for needing to keep discussions behind closed doors.
However, anyone who has followed local politics for even a short while understands the proclivity of local governments to conduct as much real discussion of issues as possible out of public view.
There is a very good reason for this. Often, the genesis of the issues kept most secret comes not from local elected officials, but rather from the special interests who have the ear of the politicians and who have been very effective through the decades pushing agendas that most benefit those interests.
The current hospitality fee issue dates back at least three years to the beginning of 2016. At that time, the projects funded by the Ride II tax were coming to completion. The hospitality and real estate interests began pushing the need for a Ride III referendum.
Informal talks between special interest leaders and local politicians developed a plan to promote passage of a Ride III referendum as well as continuation of hospitality fee collections countywide to fund I-73 construction within Horry County.
The special one-cent sales tax approved with Ride II and Ride III referendums pay for many projects that improve roads within the county that have become congested with traffic from new developments. These costs should be paid for directly by developers or impact fees rather than all the citizens of the county, but the hospitality and real estate lobbies have been able to avoid this to date.
The Ride III referendum was passed by voters in November 2016. County council removed the sunset provision from hospitality fee ordinance in the spring of 2017 at the behest of Lazarus, county administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti.