Horry County Council carved more than $20 million out of its latest budget Tuesday, but most of that money is simply delaying a terminal expansion at Myrtle Beach International Airport.
That project is being postponed until the country’s financial conditions have improved. The airport’s revenues have declined sharply because of the COVID-19 crisis and the county’s financial advisers have suggested they hold off on borrowing the money for the $22 million construction project.
“Once we get back to a normal operating environment, then we can go back and consider the construction and financing at that point in time,” said assistant county administrator Barry Spivey. “That’s not to say that we could not, in the fall of this year, proceed forward with this project if we already find that we are in that situation. … Long term, this is a valuable asset, a valuable addition to our airport operation.”
The approach with the airport terminal is similar to the county’s overall budgeting strategy for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1. County officials are a vote away from approving a $459.4 million spending plan that is a reduction of nearly $74 million from the one they approved last year. Essentially, the county plans to maintain current services by using reserve money, delaying building projects and not offering employee raises. County officials plan to take another look at the budget in the fall and will make adjustments depending on their financial situation.
Along with delaying the terminal project, council members also voted to reduce their budget by just over $157,000 because the solicitor’s office is collecting fewer fees for programs such as drug court and pretrial intervention. That’s because courts are not operating on normal operating schedule due to COVID-19 restrictions.
County officials also expect a reduction in business license fee revenues. Last year, council members increased those fees to address shortfalls in the recreation and waste management programs.
Designed to generate an additional $4 million for the county, the fee hikes sparked at backlash this spring when many businesses got their renewal notices. They learned their license fees had jumped and were initially due May 1 — just as the COVID-19 crisis arrived (that deadline has been pushed back to June 30).
The new fees were particularly steep for high-revenue businesses like car dealerships. For example, a dealership that generated more than $100 million in revenues paid a $4,750 in 2019. That skyrocketed to $53,038 this year.
County officials have proposed restructuring some of the license fees so the higher-generating businesses would see lower rates. For example, car dealers in the highest category would see their fees reduced by nearly half of the current rate. Large retail, residential contractors, professional services and lodging would also see reductions, according to the proposed budget.
Council members are unsure how much revenue they will lose with the new rates, but they are budgeting for a $2.3 million loss. They will use reserves to make up the shortfall.
“We’re not going all the way back, we’re going partially,” councilman Harold Worley said of the reduced rates. “This is the right thing to do for the business community. This will really help those folks.”
As council members reduce spending, they are also seeking assistance from the federal CARES Act. Spivey said the county has requested more than $24 million as reimbursement for COVID-19 related expenses, including worker salaries and personal protective gear.