Local mayors blast state lawmakers, Horry County for the handling of hospitality fee debate

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Mayors from cities and towns within Horry County are criticizing state lawmakers and the county for how they’re addressing the hospitality fee debate.

In a special press conference held outside Conway City Hall Monday morning, the mayors of North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach, Surfside, Conway, and Aynor formally announced their disapproval of a newly introduced House bill, which has state lawmakers siding with Horry County. 

The bill would allow Horry County to keep collecting the 1.5 percent hospitality fee from cities even though the mayors have said that system is decades old and that the previous arrangement has expired. 

A news release sent before Monday’s press conference said the bill blocks cities and towns from, “…rightfully and legally collecting hospitality fees generated within their own jurisdictions.”

“It also seeks to deny our right as duly elected officials to determine how to expend revenues collected within our jurisdictions for the good of our communities,” North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said Monday. 

The mayors are making it clear the collection of hospitality tax revenues should remain within the municipalities. 

The City of Myrtle Beach even sued the county, calling Horry County’s collection of millions of dollars for road projects, including the construction of I-73, illegal.

Horry County could lose more than $20 million a year in hospitality taxes if the suit is successful.

“We have a fiduciary obligation to our residents and we have the lawful right to manage our funds, the citizens’ money, for the good of our own communities,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said at the news conference. 

Horry County recently made a new offer on how to divide the tourism dollars, but Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach rejected the plan. 

Hatley on Monday called the county’s efforts insincere. “Why else would they run to our representatives and have them to propose such a bill as bill 4597? There is no interest in negotiation there,” Hatley said.

Horry County Council Chair Johnny Gardner said after the press conference that he did not contact lawmakers about creating the bill.

“I support the local delegation for doing it, I’m glad they did it, but we did not go to them and ask them to do this,” Gardner said. “But we’re glad they did that.”

Gardner also said he hopes Myrtle Beach and Horry County can reach a legal agreement through mediation rather than going to trial.

But the fight could go on for months and even into next year. Even though the state legislature adjourned on Friday, the delegation says it’s prepared to move the bill forward into next year’s session if the county and city are unable to work it out. 

In response to Monday’s press conference, South Carolina Rep. Russell Fry (R-Surfside Beach) released a statement saying, “Resolution of this important issue starts with discussion. As leaders, it is important that we talk with each other and not at each other. Press conferences are important but less effective than meaningful dialogue.”

Mark Kruea, with the City of Myrtle Beach, released a statement on Friday, saying, in part:

“Very briefly, the cities’ 20-year agreements allowing the hospitality fee to be collected in their jurisdictions have expired; the original period for the fee itself has expired; the original purpose of the fee has been accomplished; the cities’ property owners already pay property taxes for county services; and the City of Myrtle Beach is on record as supporting I-73, with possible funding identified.”

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