HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Horry County may finally be able to spend millions of dollars meant for roads.

The money comes from the road fee drivers pay when they register their car. Lawsuits claim the fee is illegal, but the county is working to try and unlock the money.

The county is still collecting the fee, but has stopped spending the money. The county council will vote Tuesday to make the road fee permanent. It will also try to justify why the fee is legal. 

The purpose of rewriting the ordinance is so that it follows a court ruling after a similar road maintenance fee charged by Greenville County was ruled unconstitutional.

“We believe that everything that we’re doing is legal, but we weren’t taking a chance,” Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught said.

Horry County charges $50 a year per registered vehicle in the county, which is then put into a road maintenance fund.

“In the past I think it’s gone into the general fund, but now it will go into a separate fund, which is all part of making sure that we keep everything separate and aboveboard,” Vaught said.

But because of a recent case where a similar fee in Greenville County was ruled unconstitutional by the South Carolina Supreme Court, that led the county to rewrite its ordinance.

“We didn’t know what the effect of that law being overturned in Greenville was going to be and so we’ve been doing a lot of research and background on it,” he said.

Part of the ruling states user fees are not valid unless the payers of the fee benefit more than the nonpayers. According to Vaught, this fee benefits more residents than not.

“We’ve gone through and conducted some studies and proven that basically, the users of our roads are about 75% locals,” he said. “The vehicle operating costs were reduced in Horry County, because of this fee.”

While the county believes what it’s doing is legal, Vaught says it wasn’t taking any chances. It continues to collect the fee, but puts into an escrow fund.

According to Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones, right now that sits at $13,819,506.19.

“It would have been a $17 million hole in our budget that we would have had to come up with by increasing property taxes or some other means,” Vaught said. “We believe in charging fees that are related to services and these fees that we’re charging for road maintenance are definitely related to the service of keeping the roads in good shape.”

The first reading of the ordinance will go before council Tuesday night.