Future of Horry County’s road maintenance fee uncertain

Grand Strand

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — The future of Horry County’s road maintenance fee is in jeopardy.

Horry County charges $50 per year per registered vehicle in the county. In fiscal year 2021, the county collected $17,741,915 from the fee.

A portion of the money is shared with municipalities in the county. The money goes toward maintenance work like repaving roads, installing or replacing sidewalks and filling in potholes.

The county’s fee is in question because the South Carolina Supreme Court struck down two similar fees imposed by Greenville County — a road maintenance fee and a telecommunications fee. In his concurrence with the majority opinion, Justice John Kittredge said Greenville County was not being forthright.

“Local governments, for obvious reasons, want to avoid calling a tax a tax,” Kittredge wrote. “I believe [this] decision sends a clear message that the court will not uphold taxes masquerading as ‘service or user fees.'”

Horry County’s road maintenance fee has been in place since 1987. It was affirmed by the state supreme court in 1992.

After the ruling against Greenville County, Horry County is cautiously moving forward, according to Angie Jones, the county’s treasurer.

“As of right now, what we’re doing is we are still collecting the money,” Jones said. “We are putting it in a separate account and we’re not disbursing anything from it until we get some answers, and we don’t know how long that will be.”

Jones said county lawyers are reviewing the validity of the county’s fee to confirm its legal standing.

Jones also said she has received calls from other counties in South Carolina with similar fees to ask what Horry County’s plan was to address potential challenges.

Another county with a road maintenance fee is Florence County. County Councilman Jason Springs said the fee is needed, beneficial and valid.

“Florence County is confident that our road maintenance fee and all other user fees and uniform service charges that we impose in order to fund the services our residents expect and deserve are not only necessary, but are also valid under and in accordance with the terms of all applicable statutory provisions and judicial decisions that have interpreted them,” Springs said in a statement to News13.

If the fees are deemed unconstitutional, municipalities in Horry County stand to lose their share of the pot. City of Myrtle Beach spokesperson Mark Kruea said the city would have to find a way to fill in the gap.

“[Losing that revenue] would be a head scratching moment,” Kruea said. “We’ll need to see what we can do to cover those expenses either with savings from someplace else, or redirect some money from someplace else, or ultimately raise taxes if we need to.”

He added that the city receives about $1 million a year from the county but that in the grand scheme of things, the potential loss won’t hurt the city too much.

“It would be about a million out of a $200 million budget, so it’s not a horrible number, but it’s not a good number either,” Kruea said.

The city of North Myrtle Beach’s share is roughly $800,000 annually. Money from the county is disbursed quarterly. Pat Dowling, North Myrtle Beach public information officer, said the fees should remain because of the benefit they provide.

“We hope that the court’s earlier 1992 communication with Horry County holds true and that we can all continue to benefit,” Dowling said. “It is a benefit directly to the public because the roads they’re traveling on are paved with that money. From that point of view, it would be great if it would continue.”

Several Horry County residents, including Jonel Brown, said they’d rather pay the annual fee instead of driving on poorly maintained roads.

“There are potholes that are quite literally either ripping tires off or destroying cars,” Brown said. “If it doesn’t stay, I don’t think it’s really going to change anything at this point. It’s just going to be a bumpy ride.”

It is unclear exactly when the future of Horry County’s road and maintenance fee will be known for certain.

Count on News13 for updates.

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