Horry County leaders explore privatizing parks and recreation department

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CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Horry County leaders are looking at possibly using a private company to take over a department in financial trouble.

As the population grows, the Horry County Parks and Recreation Department has struggled to keep pace. During budget talks earlier this year, parks and rec said it needed $3 million to keep up with the rising population and maintain its current services.

While the threat of closing places like the seven-year-old Carolina Forest Recreation Center has gone away, the county is still looking to properly fund parks and rec.

“We’re on your tax line,” said parks and rec director Paul McCulloch. “We’re that 1.6 mill of tax, so we’re limited to what that is.”

“There’s some avenues that we haven’t gone down that we’re going to look at from a business standpoint, as well as a government standpoint, to see if we can’t make this thing profitable enough that we don’t have to tax taxpayers,” said Danny Hardee, an Horry County Council member representing northern parts of Carolina Forest.

One of those ideas recently discussed by the county’s infrastructure and regulation committee is privatizing the parks and rec department, including the three rec centers. Hardee, along with fellow Carolina Forest-based council member Bill Howard, spoke to the Carolina Forest Civic Association, which meets in one of those centers, Wednesday night.

They say hiring a private company may not be the best option.

“It’s our duty to at least explore it,” Howard said. “It’s not that we’re going to go that route, because I don’t think anyone could do it as good as we can.”

Howard also mentioned a popular idea for raising money: impact fees paid by homeowners in new developments, which about 73% of Horry County voters supported in the 2018 election.

“These impact fees will pay for recreation,” said Howard. “They’ll pay for public safety. They’ll pay for infrastructure.”

The county will hold a public workshop for anyone to talk about what a private rec center manager should do on Nov. 14 at 2 p.m.

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