Council members discuss possibility of allocating hospitality tax money towards public safety

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Council members made a $38 million pledge to match federal funds to the I-73 project a few months ago, but that could be allocated towards other tourism related expenditures if not all funds are used for the interstate project.

The county's hospitality tax can only be used to fund tourism related things, and council member Johnny Vaught said there's nothing more tourism related than I-73. The pledge lets the federal government know the county is ready to do it's part for the road, but he also said there are a lot of things up in the air right now.

Vaught said if there is money left over from that pledge, and not all of it goes towards I-73, there's potential for it to be used on other expenses, as long as they're tourism related.

"Right now and at that point in time it was academic as to the discussion as to what we would actually do with it,” said Vaught. “We said OK it's going to be something tourism related whether it’s roads, I-73, or whether we do it with some kind of tourism related policing or some kind of service related thing we can do that will support tourism."

Some options the county is discussing is allocating some of that money towards a traffic division during the busy summer months for Horry County police. According to Vaught, right now the summer's traffic patrol is usually left up to state highway patrol.

One thing to keep in mind is this money won't be accessible until 2019 when the bonds are paid off. At that point, Vaught said he's not sure if all the money would be used for I-73 or if there will be some left over to use for other tourism related expenses.

Council could have the option to allocate some money for the road project and some for public safety if they don't need it all for the Interstate-73 project, said Vaught.

“I am totally in favor of, if we're able to - to putting that towards an increased police presence, whether it be a traffic division or whatever, especially during the summer times and peak times when we really need an increased police presence,” said Vaught.

Horry County police said the employment needs of the department are known and it's confident the outcome will be what's best for the members of the department.

When talking about more funding for public safety, Vaught said there could be money from the county's growth that could be applied to that area, but council will have to get a better idea of that when it gets the budget projections from the budget retreat, scheduled for next month.

Vaught said he thinks public safety is one of the top priorities for council.

"When we look at all the crime rate we have going on through opioids and just all kinds of crime, really the solution is more police out there and better equipped police," said Vaught. "We already the best equipped police department in South Carolina. It's amazing the equipment that out officers have."

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