Bill Bigham’s Beach Services Ltd. has been providing lifeguard service to the town of Surfside Beach for many years.
In return, he makes money renting chairs, umbrellas, floats and other items to beachgoers on the town’s two-mile stretch of sand.
Bigham’s contract expires on March 31 and some council members wanted to take a closer look at it before extending a renewal.
The council met in executive session for over and hour and a half Tuesday night before telling the town administrator to come up with a proposed contract for the next council meeting.
In his original contract, Bigham was to pay the town five percent of his revenue as a franchise fee for the right to operate on the town’s beach.
But starting in 2004 and continuing through the present contract, the franchise fee was waived.
Prior to Tuesday’s executive session, Surfside Beach resident Ron Saunders told the council that Beach Services should have to pay a franchise fee because it made good business sense to do so.
“For nine years, the town has lost $14,000 a year it should have been collecting,” Saunders said.
He also admonished the council for discussing the operational details of the contract behind closed doors instead of in a public forum.
In an unusual move, during the business portion of the meeting, the council approved a resolution that would forbid any council member from discussing details that were going to be discussed in the upcoming executive session.
Town administrator Micki Fellner said the resolution was necessary because all of Bigham’s financial and business information may be brought to the table and disclosure of the details may affect Bigham’s other business operations.
Mayor Doug Samples said he wanted the resolution approved to make Bigham feel more at ease in discussing his business finances.
Samples relayed after the meeting that he couldn’t discuss any details of the new contract until Fellner presents it to the council.
As to reinstating the franchise fee, Samples said he wasn’t positive but there is a good chance a franchise fee will be part of the new contract extension with Beach Services.
A franchise fee isn’t uncommon in Horry County. Myrtle Beach has one, and city spokesman Mark Kruea said that franchise agreement calls for three percent of a company’s gross receipts with a maximum of $1,465 per lifeguard stand.
That rate was increased by 10 percent per stand in December of 2010 and 2012.
Tom O’Dare • 488-7261