CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – The Horry County Council is one step closer to extending its 1.5 percent hospitality fee beyond its 2022 sunset and potentially using a portion of those funds to pay for Interstate 73.
The second reading of an ordinance repealing the hospitality fee's sunset, which would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022, passed on a vote of 10 to 1 at Tuesday's county council meeting.
It must pass one more reading before formal adoption.
In the fall of 1996, Horry County implemented that 1.5 percent hospitality fee, which became effective Jan. 1, 1997, for the purpose of funding the RIDE I infrastructure projects, according to county spokesperson Lisa Bourcier.
"The purpose of the fee is to provide the financial ability for Horry County to partner with the state of South Carolina to meet the infrastructure needs of the county," Bourcier said via email.
At Tuesday's meeting, county administrator Chris Eldridge said the fee generates over $38 million in revenue per year.
Roughly 50 percent of that revenue comes from prepared food and drink, 40 percent comes from lodging and 10 percent is from admissions fees, according to Eldridge.
He added the proceeds of the hospitality fee are to pay off the state infrastructure bank loan of $500 million for the RIDE I projects.
Those projects included S.C. 22, a portion of S.C. 31, and the four-lane bridge/interchange over the George Bishop Parkway to Harrelson Boulevard.
Eldridge said the county expects to pay off the loan by the fourth quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, instead of the projected payoff period in 2022.
If the council ultimately decides to continue implementing the hospitality fee, it could be used for infrastructure applicable to hospitality needs, according to Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.
That would include a portion of I-73 in Horry County.
Some members of council asked if the portions of the revenue could ultimately be used for public safety.
Councilman Harold Worley expressed his desire to see some of the money be used to hire more police officers and bring public safety officials up in pay scale.
"We could never pay our police and fire what they really should be paid," said Councilman Al Allen.
He added if the ordinance to repeal the 2022 sunset on the hospitality fee does not go into effect, it will take away a lot of options and flexibility in the future to do something for public safety without raising property taxes.