Is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina an embarrassment? What can be done?
In fiscal year 2021, the city is obligated to pay almost $8 million in interest on almost $200 million in debt. This debt is much higher than North Myrtle’s $5.1 million, Horry county’s $62 million (in non-airport related debt), and even the $93 million school district debt.
The city is in the news for having violence downtown where it is so impoverished it was proudly declared by our mayor Brenda Bethune as being a federally recognized “opportunity zone.”
The city is facing numerous lawsuits due in part to alleged heavy-handed dealings with property owners that include forcing out a tenant who lost her life savings from her military service, subsequently buying that building, and tearing it down. Other property it purchased will compete with private industry by renting office space to tenants.
The city paid $5,000 to list a church it does not own on the historic register. The city plans on renovating that church. The city manager and some council members are members of this church. The city bought an old theater and is spending thousands renovating it for Coastal Carolina University to use free for five years and are renovating a library for the school to use for $1 per year for up to 70 years. City leaders still want to construct a museum for an organization they don’t own, a new city hall the city can’t afford, and a new library although their own library board said they don’t want to move twice.
With a new S.C. State House District 107 representative being elected soon, the local legislative delegation has an opportunity – and an obligation – to revise the Tourism Development Fee (tourism tax) that is a one percent local option tax from 2009 renewed by city council for 10 more years.
The TDF currently provides 80 percent of tax revenues to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC) for out-of-state advertising. With tourism being down, the chamber is projected to have total income from local governments of about $42 million compared to $50 million last year while their tax records for 2018 showed $400,000 in salary going to a former chamber leader.
Normally, chambers operate with income from their members.
I propose a revision to the TDF – which was passed at the state level. The revision would be to flip the percentage so that 80 percent of the revenue goes to the city and 20 percent to the chamber. The city’s current 20 percent would be spent as it is now, while the remaining 60 percent would go toward city debt reduction. When the debt is paid, the money would go into the general fund. The city could then afford to maintain its current assets better and build assets such as free parking garages, beach restrooms and other amenities for area residents to use instead going into debt to put “heads on beds” to benefit vacation property owners.
An additional idea would be requiring the chamber to use a portion of the revenues it receives to advertise industrial parks within our county to diversify our economy.
The city needs new leaders and a revised TDF.
Ann A. Dunham
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
FROM THE EDITOR …
Thank you for this substantive letter. My news outlet does not support local option tax hikes as a matter of principle, but your letter certainly offers an excellent starting point to debate the configuration of this particular levy.
As you know, Horry county is no stranger to corruption involving such “tourism development” efforts – although sadly there has been no accountability on that front. Hopefully that will change soon, although the reelection of Luke Rankin does not inspire much in the way of confidence.
I suspect the issue of the TDF will be hotly debated during the upcoming primary for S.C. House District 107 – as it should be. Hopefully you will keep us apprised of that debate.
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