It’s Your Money: Municipalities spend thousands of dollars on budget retreats

It's Your Money: Budget Retreat Cost

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Raising taxes, adding staff and increasing wages are all decisions local officials must make each year when they set the budget.

The question is, how much do officials spend to make those decisions?

Where a budget retreat is held, and for how long, can make these planning sessions range from $700 to $7,000.

Why is there such a wide range in costs? First, governments must choose where to hold these discussions.

A popular choice is Santee Cooper's Wampee Conference Center that's two hours away in Pinopolis. Both North Myrtle Beach and Conway held their retreats there this year, spending $2,100 and $2,600, respectively. This cost covers rooms, food and the facility for multiple days.

The Horry County Council was originally planning on having its retreat at the Wampee Center this year but changed locations to keep it in Conway after some debate.

When the county has held the retreat out of town, the bill averaged around $5,500.

"This is a perfect example of a waste of taxpayer dollars, especially when we have so many pressing needs, and we can do it free right here in Horry County in Conway," Horry County Councilman Tyler Servant previously said about the costs associated with budget retreats.

Last year, Horry County held the retreat in Conway, but still spent close to $2,000. This year that cost was brought to zero because council members funded the food themselves and condensed the retreat into one day.

Council member Johnny Vaught says this decision still came with a cost.

“It’s an intensely, intensely business-like environment - it really is - and people who thought that we can sit up on the desk, talk about these kinds of things rather than in the kind of closed environment that was are just missing the point,” he said. “You spend $5,200 for three days and you get all of that work done without outside influences, without the distractions and that kind of thing. I just think we are missing the bus by not going.”

Meanwhile, the city of Myrtle Beach has walked away with a more than $10,000 bill from retreats at the Wampee Conference Center.

This week, Myrtle Beach will hold its budget retreat at Magnolia’s within the city and plans to spend around $2,000.

“If we have the retreat here then our staff can sort of be on call,” city manager John Pedersen said. “If I need the police chief here at the retreat to answer a specific question, then I can just call her, and she can be there in 10 minutes. If we go away, then usually those department heads have to come with us and so it kind of pulls them offline for up to a couple days.”

Local retreats can also still come with a cost.

Myrtle Beach racked up a $7,000 bill for its past retreats held at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. That’s $3,000 less than its out-of-town retreat.

Copyright 2019 WMBF. All rights reserved.