MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune told News13 Monday she supports the city’s controversial “tourism development fee” and she doesn’t want a voter referendum on the tax.
The agenda for Tuesday’s Myrtle Beach city council meeting calls for a vote to “reimpose” the one-cent sales tax without a voter referendum.
A growing online petition, with nearly 300 signatures, demands a referendum. “City Council’s decision is UNFair and UNAmerican,” the petition says. “Help send them a message: We DEMAND THE RIGHT TO VOTE!”
“The people need to vote on this,” Anthony Calda said. He is a home and business owner in Myrtle beach. He said one of his big problems with the TDF is it gives wealthy people the biggest benefit.
“The middle class and lower class, they save money, yes, but not as much money,” Calda said. “And I see it defined as helping the people that really don’t actually need it.”
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.
“Going door-to-door and making voter phone calls, people didn’t say we want a referendum, we want to do away with the TDF,” Bethune said. “What I heard was please keep our property taxes low.”
Bethune said she and the two newest council members made their thoughts on the TDF clear during the campaign, and people voted them in office. “In my mind that basically was a referendum,” Bethune said.
She added the TDF does more than just keep property taxes low. “Ocean outfalls, beach renourishment, the growth of our airport,” were some of her examples.
But some people say they just want the ability to decide. “We had the Ride II and II referendums,” Ed Carey, who lives in Myrtle Beach, said. “The voters should have a right to raise their taxes or lower their taxes.”
An ordinance on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting would not allow the voters to decide whether they want to pay 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.
Because the rebate is based on a percentage of someone’s property taxes, the biggest benefits go to the wealthy. One person with a home worth nearly $9 million received a tax credit, paid by the sales tax, worth $22,315.83 in 2017, tax records show. According to the city, a person with a home valued at $199,000 would receive a tax credit of only $505.46.
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.