State, local leaders ‘disappointed’ by county council’s actions on hospitality resolution

Updated: Dec. 17, 2019 at 11:17 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – Both state and local leaders have said they’re “disappointed” and “dismayed” by the actions that were taken by Horry County council members during their vote on the proposed hospitality fee settlement.

Officials across Horry County met on Monday to discuss a proposed resolution over hospitality fees that was reached in November.

The issue stems from a lawsuit filed by the city of Myrtle Beach and other municipalities against Horry County. In that suit, the county is accused of illegally collecting those fees to pay for Interstate 73 after an agreement expired in 2017.

[ Myrtle Beach sues Horry County to recover hospitality fees ]

“For the record, I would like to state that the City of Myrtle Beach voted Monday to settle the suit with Horry County, as did Atlantic Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Aynor and Surfside Beach,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said in a statement. “Not only are we disappointed by Horry County Council’s decision last night, but we are dismayed by some of the assertions made which are factually inaccurate.”

Horry County Council met and discussed the proposed settlement for nearly two hours on Monday night. During the discussion, councilman Danny Hardee called the lawsuit filed by Myrtle Beach “BS” and that the people who started it should pack up and get out of Horry County.

Council members made an amendment to the resolution, stating that the city of Myrtle Beach cannot use part of the settlement money to pay attorney fees, which officials said is between $6-$7 million.

Council members voted 7-5 in favor of the resolution with the amendment. Because there was a change to the proposed resolution, all municipalities must meet and vote on it again.

“I have to wonder, and I think everybody else really needs to ask themselves Did Horry County Council ever intend to settle this dispute? And did they ever intend to help fund I-73?” questioned Bethune. “That’s something that has always been a priority of our council as well as others and I think it is blatantly clear that it’s not a priority of Horry County.”

Bethune isn’t the only person questioning the decision by the county leaders.

“I’m sure I’m not alone in this but I’m disappointed that it wasn’t resolved last night,” South Carolina state Rep. Alan Clemmons said.

Earlier this month, in anticipation of no settlement being agreed upon, Clemmons along with other state representatives pre-filed a bill that would allow the county to continue to collect a portion of hospitality fees and accommodations taxes. It would also give the municipalities the portion of the hospitality fee that they’re fighting to keep.

“We would have the ability to clarify the law and set the law so it’s very clear how the hospitality fees are supposed to be collected and by whom they are to be collected,” Clemmons explained.

Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner said the legislation is not the best interest of the county.

“Our local delegation, instead of trying to help us come up with a plan to settle this lawsuit, they filed a proposed bill that would take all of the money and send it to a fund for I-73. It would leave no money for tourism activity. No money for first responders. No money for public safety,” Gardner said.

County leaders also said they haven’t received any help from the state to get Interstate 73 completed and that the county is having to bear this burden on their own, but Clemmons says this just isn’t true.

“The state has stepped up to the plate. The state and the federal government have born all of the cost of the permitting. Of buying the rights of way that have been purchased. On doing the engineering. On performing the environmental testing. On doing every single thing required to get the federal permit for construction over these many years,” Clemmons said.

Bethune stated that Myrtle Beach City Council is dedicated to reaching a resolution in the hospitality fee battle.

“My Council and I remain resolute in our desire to reach a settlement that’s in the best interest of all Horry County residents, and we will do so in a professional and rational manner,” Bethune wrote in a statement.

Myrtle Beach will have a special called meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday to discuss the changes made to the proposed hospitality fee settlement.

As for the pre-filed bill, that could be heard by lawmakers sometime after the session begins in January.

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