MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – The fight over hospitality fees is one step closer to being over.
On Tuesday, the Myrtle Beach City Council approved a settlement agreement with the county in the hospitality fee litigation. At this point, details of the settlement have not been released.
“Ladies and gentlemen this is a big day, a great day, a lot of hard work went into this. I want to thank Horry County Council and their attorney for working with us to make this happen and I hope the other municipalities see this as favorably as we do,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune stated.
Now at stake is how the money will be divided.
“Not settled is how the $19 million, the common fund, will be distributed. That’s the thing we’re asking the judge to decide. They have one model and we have another model. Will give those two models for the court to decide. The remaining parts of this case are settled,” said Myrtle Beach city attorney Will Bryan.
During the Horry County Council meeting Tuesday night, councilmembers voted unanimously in favor of a “court structure proposal,” which means the county and city will argue in court over how the funds will be divided and then the decision will be left up to a judge.
“I think we made great strides tonight all weekend, all week. I think we’ll have a settlement before it’s all over. We just haven’t gotten there yet,” Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner said.
Horry County also released this statement on Tuesday night’s decisions surrounding the hospitality battle:
“Tonight both City and County councils gave their approval to moving forward with the framework of a proposed settlement.”
Horry County, Myrtle Beach and other municipalities have been caught in a bitter battle for more than a year over who can collect hospitality fees.
The city of Myrtle Beach filed a lawsuit in March 2019 that accuses the county of illegally collecting hospitality tax money without their consent.
At issue in the lawsuit is a resolution passed in 1996 that allowed Horry County to collect a 1.5% hospitality tax.
That resolution was set to expire in 2017, but the county passed an ordinance in December 2016 that extends the Sunset Provision on the 1.5% hospitality fee to Jan. 1, 2022. Myrtle Beach city leaders said they did not give their consent to this.
Since that time there have been numerous injunctions and appeals brought by Horry County and Myrtle Beach. Other local municipalities such as North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach have joined in on the lawsuit with Myrtle Beach. All of the municipalities involved in the lawsuit will have to agree to the settlement.
The Myrtle Beach vote on the settlement comes one day before the lawsuit is scheduled to go before the South Carolina Supreme Court. Horry County is challenging an injunction by the lower courts which prohibits their collection of the hospitality fees.
Gardner explained that all parties will still go to the state Supreme Court since the settlement still has to be approved by other municipalities involved.
“We don’t anticipate an order from them [the judges]. Normally it takes a while to digest all of that and come back and write an opinion,” Gardner said. “Rather then speculate on what they may say, we’re going to wait to hear from them and act accordingly. But like I said before, we may have this resolved before they issue their order.”