Guests staying in Myrtle Beach could soon pay a new fee, a levy aimed at enhancing public safety services and infrastructure in the city.
“This was brought to us by a group of hoteliers,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said of the proposal.
One of those hoteliers is city councilwoman Jackie Hatley, who owns the Sea Dip Oceanfront Resort.
She said the idea emerged after seeing many rentals at accommodation businesses within the past few years and none of that money going toward tourism “as far as our infrastructure and things like that.”
It can be difficult to find ways to pay for those initiatives, Hatley added, and this is a way to charge tourists rather than taxpayers.
Here’s how it would work: each unit leased would be charged a $3 flat fee with the money to go toward public safety as well as infrastructure improvements and administrative costs.
The levy would go into effect on April 1, 2021, and expire on June 30, 2024, unless renewed by the city council.
If the fee is implemented, a review board made up of members of the business community would be appointed.
That group would be responsible for reviewing proposed uses of money garnered from the fee, overseeing the expenditure of those funds and making recommendations.
Payments would be due to the city within 30 days after the end of the month.
A violation could result in a misdemeanor charge that carries a fine of up to $500 or up to 30 days in jail.
The review board would work to identify any issues and communicate with city leaders and staff members.
The board would report concerns and progress to the city council each quarter. Each year, the board would present a report outlining its activities and recommendations.
The panel would include four representatives from the hotel industry (including those from the northern, central and southern sections of Ocean Boulevard and one non-boulevard member) and two other representatives from the business community — one from an establishment along the boulevard and the second from a non-boulevard business.
Additionally, there would be a board member from the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, another with the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association and a city council liaison.
At least 75% of funds generated by the fee would be utilized for increased public safety efforts, including expenses related to first responders, outside police agencies, private security work, Myrtle Beach’s ambassador program, code enforcement, improved ocean rescue and beach patrol services, technology and better data compilation, and safety and perception of safety relating to homeless people.
Additionally, up to 25% would go toward infrastructure improvements — think roads, streetlights, paths, bike lanes, pedestrian enhancements, water and sewer upgrades, managing stormwater and converting utilities so they’re underground — and the fee could also be used to pay administrative costs such as enforcement software, reporting and accounting and field inspections for compliance.
Councilman John Krajc asked why water and sewer were included in the permitted uses as he doesn’t see that as connected to public safety. City Manager John Pedersen said it allows for flexibility.
Each property could charge a fee of up to $25 for the implementation of the fee as long as receipts are issued to guests that show the $3 levy.
For units that are managed on-site, the fee would be added to a guest’s bill.
As for ones managed off-site, each property would be tasked with identifying those units (This might be applicable to an Airbnb or Vrbo stay, for example.)
The city code would also be modified to require each party occupying such a unit to let the front desk know about their arrival and pay the fee.
The levy would be collected when guests pick up items such as parking passes or amenity access wristbands, and registration and payment of the fee would be required before issuance of the passes or wristbands.
Also, the levy would apply to non-owner stays in timeshare units.
Innkeepers would need to post a notice on the inside of a door at each such unit to let guests know about the registration and payment requirements and penalties for violations.
By Dec. 31, city staff would present proposed plans to the board regarding administration and enforcement, public safety improvements and infrastructure enhancements in anticipation of the next fiscal year.
By Jan. 31, the review board would hold a public hearing to review the proposals and consider recommendations from the public and folks in the hospitality field.
By March 31, the board would recommend specific allocations and plans for uses of the fee to the city council with outlined goals and strategies.
Also, at least quarterly, the board would meet with city staff to discuss issues. The group would also report concerns and progress towards goals.
By Oct. 31, the board would present its annual report to the city council containing activities and recommendations for improvements to plans and the ordinance.
Councilman Gregg Smith said he wants to see details on such a levy being used in other cities. Though a $3 fee may not seem like much, he added: “We already have a lot of fees.”