Horry County may take two municipalities to court over their parking rates.
County leaders on Tuesday told the county attorney to research whether the county has standing to request a temporary restraining order that would bar Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach and from charging increased parking fees to county residents who don’t live in those municipalities. County leaders would like such an order to remain in effect while they challenged the parking fees in court.
County Councilman Harold Worley said leaders are considering legal action “to protect our people.”
“I’m having people all over the county call me,” he said. “It’s not right.”
Last summer, Myrtle Beach leaders decided to charge visitors for parking along Ocean Boulevard in the Golden Mile area of the city. Anyone with a city resident decal can park in those spaces for free, but non-residents have to pay $2 per hour or $10 per day.
This month, Surfside Beach leaders voted to raise the cost of their non-resident parking decal by $100.
Worley said those hikes are not fair to locals who don’t live in those municipalities.
“There’s a lot of people in this county that can’t afford big money to go to the beach,” he said.
After Myrtle Beach passed its parking rules last summer, Worley pointed out that the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have a contract that deals with who pays for replenishing sand on eroding shorelines. The agreement provides the city with millions of dollars in renourishment funding, and it stipulates that access roads, parking areas and other public facilities at the beach must be “open and available to all on equal terms.”
Worley and County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus argued that by charging city residents and county residents different parking rates, the city violated that agreement.
City officials, however, maintained that city residents already paid for parking through their taxes.
The Corps reviewed the contract after county leaders raised the issue. The federal agency sided with the city.
But Worley said the Corps is wrong.
“It plainly says equal access,” he said. “It’s not up to the Corps of Engineers to make the decision. It’s up to the courts.”
Lazarus could not be reached for comment.
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes pointed out that the county also charges for parking in certain parts of the unincorporated beach.
"They're going to sue us but they can charge for parking in their areas?" Rhodes said. "If we can't charge for parking, then they shouldn't be able to either. It makes no sense at all."
Although the county does have some paid parking, the county charges the same rate to residents and non-residents.
Rich Malzone, spokesman for the group Make Myrtle Beaches Free, Clean and Safe, was pleased to learn about the county's interest.
“We’re thrilled with it," he said. "It looks like we might be making progress. A lot of people are waking up.”
Malzone said the group has been working with county council members Mark Lazarus, Johnny Vaught and Dennis DiSabato on addressing municipal parking fees.
County leaders asked the city to offer an annual pass that would allow non-residents to access the spaces that are now metered. City officials created a $100 pass but limited the number of spaces it could be used for. The pass included none of the parking in the Golden Mile.
“We’ve been working hand-in-hand with county council members and they know where he stand,” Malzone said. “The main takeaway is that the county council is doing something to protect [its] residents.”