Hundreds of thousands of dollars sought to improve beach patrol - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Hundreds of thousands of dollars sought to improve beach patrol and sports tourism

The money will go towards a wide range of new services including four new police officers to patrol the beach, overtime for fire rescue and more lifeguard only stands. (Source: WMBF News) The money will go towards a wide range of new services including four new police officers to patrol the beach, overtime for fire rescue and more lifeguard only stands. (Source: WMBF News)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A two percent sales tax on hotel rooms, condos and other lodging in Myrtle Beach is the accommodations tax, known as "A-Tax."  The state brings that money back to high tourist destinations, like Myrtle Beach, to make improvements with outside tourist dollars, rather than tax locals.  This year, much of that money in Myrtle Beach is being spent on sports tourism marketing and beach safety.

City leaders want to use tens of thousands of dollars to encourage more sporting events on the Grand Strand. Myrtle Beach city spokesman Mark Kruea said he can estimate the city has made $200 million in sports tourism for 2016.  That's a $33 million increase from last year, when the city raked in $167 million for 2015.

Kruea said with the Doug Shaw Stadium renovation in the works, additional plans for the Grand Park sports complex and success from the indoor facility at the Myrtle Beach Sports Complex, he sees that number continuing to grow.  Gymnastics, cheering, soccer, baseball and softball tournaments are considered the biggest money makers.  Kruea said thousands of dollars can result in millions for the city.

"Some of the tournaments bring, you know, 200, 300 teams to town...and if you look at, you know, the number of parents, the number of siblings that come with it...and they spend three, four, five, six days here...so it's a tremendous boost to the local economy.  So a $10,000 dollar investment advertising for a sports tournament can result in a $3 or $4 million benefit for the local economy," he said.

City leaders met Wednesday, Dec. 14 for the accommodations tax committee to review requests for the upcoming year.  Some of the largest sports tourism events like Baseball at The Beach, Beach Ball Classic, Inc. and Grand Strand Juniors are each asking the committee for $60,000 for advertising and marketing purposes.  The committee doesn't necessarily meet the requests, but also finds other ways to source the money if it can't be done through the accommodations tax allowance.

The $200 million is a direct economic impact, Kruea said, meaning one dollar spent one time.  Accommodations tax money also goes towards the local arts and culture.  For example, The Children's Museum of South Carolina requested $59,400.  The Long Bay Symphony asked for $75,000.  However, the sports-related events are a big chunk of the available money. Also a big chunk, is the request from the Myrtle Beach Police Department.

With more service calls and people on the beach, the Myrtle Beach Police Department is asking for $802,214 to provide extra beach coverage and improve equipment.

Five people also drowned in summer 2016 within Myrtle Beach city limits, Kruea said.

Kruea said the city is working on ways to route the money through existing funds so the actual accommodations tax contribution will be closer to the $450,000 range.  He said there's a possibility a large chunk will come out of the existing capital improvements fund, which would require a budget adjustment for this fiscal year.

The money will go towards a wide range of new services including four new police officers to patrol the beach, overtime for fire rescue and more lifeguard only stands.  Kruea said the new lifeguard stands will also include a medical bench.

Myrtle Beach Police spokesman Lt. Joey Crosby presented a detailed plan to council.  It's passed through several committees, including the accommodations tax committee, and will head to council at the beginning of 2017.

More than $260,000 is requested to pay for new equipment. That equipment ranges from three new trucks, three new Yamaha jet skis and rescue boards, to wet suits and an inflatable rescue boat.  These new purchases contribute to beach patrol's new in-water patrol team, Kruea said.  This will include a consistent in-water jet ski patrol, instead of beach patrol only on foot on the beach.

"Part of the proposal actually involved more in water activities.  You'd have a jet ski patrol that would patrol just above the surf zone, make sure people aren't getting out too far...and be able to respond in case you did have a problem in the water," Kruea said.

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