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Horry County Council seeks General Assembly’s help to protect millions in road maintenance fees

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 8:22 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Horry County Council said it’s in dire need of state legislators’ help.

A recent court ruling could put them at future risk of losing millions of dollars in what’s called “user fees.”

County leaders said the specific funds in jeopardy are the road maintenance fees and they’re hoping a resolution to the South Carolina General Assembly will keep them on the collection course.

The county’s road fees are an annual cost of $50 for those with a registered car in the county, which is an estimated $17 million.

Councilmembers said those funds help to maintain many roads locals and tourists travel on countywide and they can’t risk losing a dollar of it.

“That would be too big of a hit. We don’t have the money anywhere else to keep that up,” said Horry County Councilmember Johnny Vaught.

Leaders are asking the General Assembly to consider changing language in the state’s code of laws, to help the county continue collecting the fees.

In June, The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Greenville County could not collect road maintenance fees. Based on the language of the state code, the court determined the fees were ‘not valid.’ The reasoning is because the county residents who paid the road fees received the same benefits as those who don’t pay the fee and travel on those same roads.

Section 6-1-300 (6) of the law states: “Service or user fee” means a charge required to be paid in return for a particular government service or program made available to the payer that benefits the payer in some manner different from the members of of the general public not paying the fee.”

Vaught said that ruling could jeopardize Horry County’s ability to collect the fees so the council is advocating for the wording in the law to reflect how the fees will also benefit people who pay the fee in a manner greater than those not paying.

“WHEREAS one solution to this issue would be for the South Carolina General Assembly to amend to allow counties to have the option to utilize user fees that benefit the payer in some manner different from or greater than the members of the general public not paying the fee.”

Vaught said previous legal rulings support the collection of these fees. He hopes this next step will ensure the county will stay in a legal position to keep the fees going.

Some people said they’re opposed to this form of user fees because they feel there’s no validity for collecting them. Some even stating that the collections are unfair.

Vaught said he’s heard some opinions from those against the fees. He said when it’s all said it done, the funds help the county to meet critical infrastructure needs.

“They’re saying they’re paying $50 and tourists are coming through here using the roads and not paying anything,” Vaught said. “In our economy, with all the tourism we have, I don’t see any other way around it. It has to be supported by the primary users. The users are paying to maintain those roads and they’re using those roads.”

The road fees are also a big deal for surrounding jurisdictions like the city of North Myrtle Beach, which receive a piece of the pie.

“Not a lot of people know it, but in the city of North Myrtle Beach, when the county collects that and disperses it to different governmental jurisdictions, that’s about $800,000 a year for the city of North Myrtle Beach,” said city spokesperson Pat Dowling. “It largely makes up a large portion of our paving program within the city on city roads. So it has a lot of value to us. It doesn’t mean we’ll stop paving roads, it means the money will have to come from somewhere else if we’re not successful in retaining this user fee.”

Vaught said the resolution is a formal statement to state legislators to take action as soon as they can on this fee matter. The end result will be in the General Assembly’s hands.

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