MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – The agenda for Tuesday’s Myrtle Beach city council meeting calls for a vote to “reimpose” the city’s controversial “tourism development fee” without a voter referendum.
The Local Option Tourism Development Fee Act requires 80% of the money generated by the one-percent sales tax to be used for out-of-market advertising. Myrtle Beach gives the money to the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. The rest of the tax money pays for residential property tax relief and tourism related capital projects.
The tax expires in August 2019 and has to be renewed to continue.
While most tax increases must be approved by voters, the Local Option Tourism Development Fee Act, passed in 2009, also allows a super-majority of city council to increase the tax. Myrtle Beach city council chose the latter option in 2009.
An ordinance on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting would not allow the voters to decide whether they want to pay the tax.
“I think if you actually ask the community, you’ll find that everyone is begging for it to be renewed just the way it is,” city spokesperson Mark Kruea told News13 Friday. Mayor Brenda Bethune, at an event to announce “opportunity zones” in the downtown Superblock, wouldn’t answer questions about the tax.
Critics of the tax have called for a referendum. When North Myrtle Beach sent the tax proposal to voters earlier this month, voters overwhelmingly turned it down. North Myrtle Beach, however, offered lower property tax rebates than Myrtle Beach.
According to a city blog post defending the tax, the tourism tax gives an 82 percent rebate on city property tax bills. “Yes, local residents pay the extra one percent sales tax on their purchases, but the bulk of the TDF revenues come from the millions of visitors who vacation here,” the post said.
Critics have also questioned how the money is spent by the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. The chamber posts reports with the amount of money spent with individual vendors, but the reports don’t give a line-by-line documentation of what is purchased.
The chamber has certified “it will use the funds only for the purposes provided by state law,” the proposed ordinance says. “Its promotional and advertising programs are based on research based outcomes.”
Former Myrtle Beach mayor Mark McBride, who lost his bid for another term in November, ran on a platform that included a change to how the tourism tax money is spent. He wanted to use the money to pay for more police officers. State law doesn’t allow that and, while state lawmakers could change the law, they haven’t indicated a willingness to do so.