By Paul Gable
Horry County Council voted 7-5 Tuesday night, on first reading of an ordinance, to reduce bike vendor and special event permits from the current seven days to five, including set up and take down operations. Council members Harold Worley, Al Allen, James Frazier, Jody Prince and Bob Grabowski voted nay.
This is the second reduction in three years for the number of days for which permits will be issued. Three years ago, council reduced the number of permit days from 10 to seven. The cost of the permits ($800) has remained the same while the number of days has been reduced, effectively raising the cost of doing business per day, for vendors, by 100 percent over the three year period.
A spirited debate preceded the vote with council members debating how the new ordinance would affect the May bike rallies. Those supporting the ordinance see the reduction in days as a means to reduce the noise and congestion that have raised complaints from residents in certain areas of the county.
Those voting against the ordinance see strict enforcement of county laws as the proper way to cut down on the noise and congestion.
“It hurts the tourism business and whether you like it or not, we are the tourism business,” said Worley. “Just because these guys like to ride motorcycles, we’re going to punish them for the few. That is wrong.”
Worley also chided council chairman Tom Rice for preaching he supports jobs in his appearances as a congressional candidate for the new 7th Congressional District, but is working against jobs with respect to the vendor permit ordinance.
“The residents I represent live right down on what I like to call ground zero,” said council member Paul Price. “Let’s not let dollars be the dictators of what we do.”
Allen believes the key to less noise and congestion is stricter law enforcement of current county regulations. “Vendor permits will not address noise issues, a ticket will,” said Allen.
Council chairman Tom Rice made his first foray into the public arena three years ago encouraging the City of Myrtle Beach and Horry County to, effectively, eliminate the bike rallies. He was successful in lobbying for strict rules in Myrtle Beach which have resulted in a virtual boycott of the city by bikers ever since. The county’s response was to reduce the number of vendor permits issued and the number of days they were effective.
“These rallies are the most obtrusive events on the lives of the residents,” said Rice. “Special events permits are permission to violate the law. Residents are telling you they’ve had enough. It’s gotten out of hand, we’ve got to rein it in, five days is enough.”
After council passed first reading of the ordinance, Rice attempted to apply the pending ordinance doctrine to it. The attempt failed by an 8-4 vote with Rice, Brent Schulz, Gary Loftus and Price being the four supporters.
The pending ordinance vote and spirited debate prior to first reading signaled council members are split in their opinions about further reducing the number of days for the permits. While first reading has passed, the coalition Rice has put together to support the ordinance may well weaken over the intervening period until third reading is considered.