MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – The City of Myrtle Beach is tackling its budget head-on, laying all the cards out on the table during an Early Budget Retreat on Tuesday.
Led by newly-selected City Manager John Pedersen, the council listened, discussed, and added the top topics the City wants to tackle in the upcoming fiscal year.
It started with a budget background presentation, with a review of highlights from the FY2013-2014.
The presentation states there are “generally positive results across funds, except [the] health insurance fund will need attention to restore a reasonable reserve without excessive borrowing from other funds.”
It states those costs have been “well contained but we have yet to experience several strong years to offset high claims experienced in 2010 and 11.”
According to the presentation, the Stormwater Fund will have a balance of $1 million to $1.5 million that could fund storm water capital projects.
Pedersen suggested setting aside a fund to make Myrtle Beach more competitive. Called the “Product Development Initiative,” the purpose is to position the city to enhance its competitive advantage versus other resort cities.
This isn't the old Myrtle Beach, and the new City Manager wants to target Millennials to get the younger generation here.
The concern in Millennials don't come to Myrtle Beach because it is a tradition, something their families have been doing for generations. Rather, Pedersen pointed out, they come here for an experience.
“By going to a concept like this, that would free some money up so we address those maintenance issues were worried about on existing infrastructure,” explained Pedersen during the Early Budget Retreat.
The idea is the money could be used for other services which help with the tourist industry, such as emergency responders. Pedersen specifically addressed the conditions of the Evidence and Dispatch area of the Myrtle Beach Police Department.
“Environmentally, I don't think those spaces are up to the standard you would be proud of that our employees are working in,” Pedersen said to the council.
The Myrtle Beach Police Department was part of Tuesday's budget discussion. Including a way to improve officer retention. The City wants to study what officers are being paid compared to other jurisdictions, as well as looking at the workload.
Council will also consider deploying a recruiting officer.
In addition, a seven-step strategy was discussed to redevelop downtown. However, the discussion heated up when the council talked about a $10 million land bank to buy and sell property in the downtown district.
“There are structures down there that no longer meet code, really need work, and are detracting from our ability to redevelop that area,” Pedersen said as he started the conversation.
That point the entire council agrees upon: the area south of the pavilion needs work. Pedersen pitched the idea of aggressively going after code enforcement, to include demolishing those structures.
He pointed out developers are more attracted to already cleared out sites.
“If we are able to deliver a clean site, it will developed that much faster,” said Pedersen.
That would require the city to essentially buy the land, and some council members do not like that idea.
“What if we buy it, can't sell it, and we're stuck with principal payments? I just don't like it,” stated Myrtle Beach City Council Member Susan Grissom Means. Her cohorts also voiced their concerns
“When you take a gamble with your own money, it is one thing. When you take a gamble with taxpayers' money, it is different,” said Council Member Mike Lowder.
However, Council Member Wayne Gray pointed out the City often makes similar investments
“We do a lot of investments to a speculative degree. When building an indoor sports complex, it is built on ‘if you build it, it will build an amount of economic growth,'” said Gray.
That example has proven success. The City said in 2014, sports tourism was expected to exceed $150 million. That is more than a $22 million hike from the previous year.
How to budget and improve both sports tourism and the downtown area remain hot topics for the Myrtle Beach City Council.
Tuesday served as a brainstorm session for the council to lay all the cards out on the table. They'll get down to details during the Spring Budget Retreat.