By Paul Gable
The City of Myrtle Beach effectively ended the possibility of any significant local funding for I-73 when it sued Horry County over Hospitality Fee collections earlier this week.
The filing of the lawsuit followed weeks in which city council passed an ordinance to capture all the hospitality fee revenue collected within Myrtle Beach corporate limits, said it may be willing to fund up to $7.5 million annually for I-73, then, completed this chain of events with the lawsuit.
One must possess a strong appreciation for the absurd to watch the Myrtle Beach council in action.
However, Myrtle Beach only provided the endgame for what has been a bungled process from the beginning with first Horry County and later Myrtle Beach attempting to save local funding for I-73.
It began in April 2017 when former chairman Mark Lazarus strong-armed Horry County Council to remove the sunset provision from the 1.5% countywide hospitality tax that was funding the Ride I bonds. Each of the municipalities in the county had formally agreed to collection of this tax within their corporate boundaries until the Ride I bonds were paid off.
Lazarus, assisted by county administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti, formulated a plan to move this funding source to I-73 when the Ride I bonds were paid off, an event that occurred in January 2019. However, none of the county trio thought to obtain formal agreement from the municipalities to support this plan.
After Lazarus lost the June 2018 primary for council chairman, his days to secure the deal became numbered.
In July 2018, Lazarus and his two staff cohorts worked county council to formally adopt a resolution dedicating all of the $41 million revenue from the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee collections to a special fund for I-73. Again, none of the triplets approached the municipalities for formal agreement to this plan.
The plan was only partially successful as council agreed to dedicate up to $25 million for I-73 funding while reserving approximately $18 million for real infrastructure and other needs within the county.
As the Lazarus term in office was winding down, he again, with the assistance of Eldridge and Carotti, strong-armed council into approving a Financial Participation Agreement with SCDOT for the I-73 project. In the agreement, Horry County assumed responsibility for providing all of the funding for work done under the agreement, again without formal approval from the municipalities.
After Lazarus left office, the municipalities began looking at their own needs and how hospitality fee revenue could help fund needed projects within their corporate boundaries. Myrtle Beach, quickly followed by North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach, passed ordinances to capture all of the revenue generated by the fees within their respective boundaries.
These ordinances left county council without the revenue necessary to fund the I-73 agreement and panic among the few special interests who continue to push I-73, apparently for selfish reasons.
During all of this, the immediate needs of the county and its citizens have been ignored by the very people elected and appointed to serve them.
Horry County has no choice but to cancel the agreement with SCDOT. Myrtle Beach, in its own tortured way, will probably continue to be schizophrenic in its approach to hospitality fee revenue and any significant local funding for I-73 will disappear due to the many mistakes committed by the very elected officials and government staffers and special interests who tried to save the project.
And the citizens of the county will be better off for the demise of this outrageous boondoggle.