Following a contentious and highly emotional night at Tuesday’s special council meeting, Horry County leaders now have to figure out how to move forward.
County council deadlocked with a 6-6 tie vote, so county administrator Chris Eldridge keeps his job.
The controversy of a claim of an extortion attempt involving an associate of Chairman Johnny Gardner and a subsequent South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigation has lingered over county council since before Christmas.
Even though Eldridge avoided the chopping block, council remains split on the future of the county administrator.
Between the turnover of a new council, extortion attempt claim, SLED investigation, and vote whether to fire the administrator, Horry County is caught up in a whirlwind of controversy and disagreement.
Councilman Dennis DiSabato said at the meeting there is something far more pressing to worry about.
“What we’re doing here today is wasting government resources on an issue that is far less important than the real crisis that we’re facing as a county council right now, which is losing $42 million in revenue from a lost hospitality fee, $18 million of which we have already pledged to public safety.”
Here’s referring to the recent actions by some cities in Horry County.
Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, and Surfside Beach have all passed first readings of ordinances that would bring all accommodations and hospitality tax money back to the respective municipalities. The A-Tax and hospitality fees are tourist taxes that the cities have given some of to the county for years.
The county gets about $40 million a year from the 1.5 percent hospitality fee. $18 million of that was marked to go toward public safety.
DiSabato said council needs to focus on the potential loss of that tax money to the county.
Over the past year, there’s been a lot of debate over how the county should use the hospitality money, but last summer council voted to use some money to fund I-73 and some to fund public safety.
“But if you decide as a council that I-73 isn’t appropriate, you could put it toward Highway 90, Highway 9, or any other road in this county,” DiSabato said.
“What we’d like to do is try to sit down and work out something with their leaders that would be satisfactory to them and satisfactory to us rather than all of us losing,” Councilman Johnny Vaught said.
According to Vaught, Horry County has only a few months to work out a compromise with the cities. The new fiscal year is when municipalities would start collecting the tourism taxes if the ordinances move forward.
Vaught said council talked about accommodations and hospitality funding during executive session last night but made no formal decisions.
News13 reached out to the Horry County Police Department about what this potential loss of revenue would mean for public safety. A spokesperson said the department has no comment at this time.
Vaught said in the short-term, the county needs to figure out how to fix the relationship between Eldridge and Gardner.
“That’s a rift that has to be somehow healed,” he said. “Whether we have a different administrator or whether those two learn to work together better.”