By Paul Gable
The Horry County Council Fall Planning Retreat scheduled for Wednesday November 28, 2018 has an interesting agenda item regarding I-73.
Innocuously called “A Resolution Authorizing the County Administrator to Execute a Funding Participation Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation”, the agreement would provide DOT with Hospitality Fee revenue in an amount up to $25 million per year for things such as right of way purchases, engineering and construction on the proposed road.
While it is called a funding participation agreement, Section IV B of the agreement specifically states “SCDOT makes no financial commitment pursuant to this agreement.”
In other words, Horry County will be the only governmental agency providing funds for the I-73 project if this agreement is signed. Horry County officials often complain about being a “donor” county to the State Treasury. Yet, in this agreement, they would consent to sending even more county tax revenue to Columbia.
Proponents of this agreement have argued that I-73 is an important road to Horry County and that the Hospitality Fee revenue will only fund right of way purchases, engineering and construction for the Horry County section of the road, which ends in the vicinity of Hwy 917 at the Marion County line.
There is absolutely no economic benefit nor evacuation benefit Horry County citizens will receive from a road that ends in that rural section of Horry County.
Marion and Dillon counties, the other two counties in the Southern Corridor of the proposed I-73 to Interstate 95, are in no position to spend even one dollar of tax revenue toward the project. The only way construction of the road is going to be funded through those counties is with state and federal tax dollars.
Grand Strand Daily has spoken with legislators around the state over the past several months regarding funding for I-73 from Columbia. The only conclusion that can be drawn from these conversations is that the SC General Assembly has no plans to provide funding in the near term future for construction of I-73.
U.S. Congressman Tom Rice, SC-7th, has failed to secure any significant funding for I-73 during his six years as a member of the majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives. Appropriations bills begin in the House of Representatives. How much money do you think Rice will be able to secure now that his party is in the minority in that body?
Interstate 73 was designated as a ‘high priority route from Michigan to South Carolina’ in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Equity Act’ passed by the U.S. Congress in 1991. I-73 is apparently so ‘high priority’ that in the intervening 27 years neither the federal nor the state government have appropriated any significant money for its construction and it is not even on the radar of most of the other states in the corridor.
The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, several members of the local legislative delegation, a few Horry County officials and a few local business leaders have dedicated a lot of ‘hot air’ to the I-73 project over the last 20 years with few results.
One must wonder why this conversation is essentially limited to Horry County. Who really stands to benefit from Horry County tax revenue being spent on the project?
The proposed resolution, R-130-18, speaks inaccurately of the intent of county council as seeking “to dedicate the 1.5% hospitality fee for the continued development of major road projects within Horry County…”
That was not the intent of council expressed during the special county council meeting and workshop held on July 24, 2018, specifically held to discuss future use of Hospitality Fee revenue.
Council passed resolution R-82-18 during that meeting dedicating at least $18 million of the 1.5% Hospitality Fee revenue to public safety, infrastructure and other needs of the county with up to $25 million for I-73.
Council also passed resolution R-84-18 during that meeting directing county staff to “create a plan for public safety and roads in the fiscal year 2020 budget utilizing the $18 million 1.5% Hospitality Fee revenue…”
Resolution R-84-18 further directed county staff to “draft an ordinance amending Section 19-6(h) of the Horry County Code of Ordinances to allow the 1.5% hospitality fee for all eligible uses under state law.”
There is no record of council considering or approving such an ordinance amendment to county code since the July 2018 special meeting.
Council’s Wednesday meeting is the fall retreat for initial discussion of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. However, staff has ignored drafting an amendment for council that would provide important additional money for public safety, existing roads and other infrastructure that would benefit county citizens and employees immediately.
Instead, staff has chosen to use the time since July to negotiate an agreement with SCDOT for acquisition of rights of way, engineering and construction of a new road that for all intents and purposes will end on a rural secondary road at the Marion County line for years to come, providing no benefit to county citizens.
Unless and until the state and federal governments appropriate significant money to the construction of I-73, the county should not consider passage of R-130-18 or any appropriation of public money for I-73.
Instead, all available revenue should be spent to fix and improve public safety, roads, infrastructure and other projects for the immediate benefit of the citizens.