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Horry County Council members meet several Myrtle Beach staff members as they leave the Horry County Courthouse on Friday after a hearing about the hospitality fee. No ruling was made on Friday after both sides presented their arguments. Horry County contends it has the authority to impose and collect a hospitality fee within the city limits of Myrtle Beach as it has done since 1997. Myrtle Beach contends the original agreement has expired and it has not consented to Horry County collecting the fee within its municipal limits. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The legal fight over Horry County’s hospitality fee will head to the S.C. Supreme Court next month.

Nearly five months after the COVID-19 postponed oral arguments in the case, a hearing has been scheduled for 11:20 a.m. Aug. 19, according to a roster on the court’s website. The case, which began when the city of Myrtle Beach sued the county last year, was originally scheduled to be heard March 31.

Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner said he’s tried to be optimistic about a settlement, but he suspects the matter will have to be resolved in court. 

“We worked pretty hard at it,” he said, noting the dozens of hours the parties spent in mediation. “We just can’t seem to get there for some reason.”

City spokesman Mark Kruea declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The case focuses on a 1.5% fee that the county charges for hotel stays, restaurant meals and admission tickets. The fee had been collected countywide until the city sued the county in March 2019. City officials objected to the county collecting the fee in the city limits without the city’s consent. So far, the courts have generally ruled in the city’s favor and the county can only collect the fee in the unincorporated areas, not in any municipality.

Since the case was filed, multiple other Grand Strand cities have supported Myrtle Beach’s position.

The two sides appeared headed to a settlement after a 10-hour marathon mediation on Oct. 31.

But when the respective councils voted on the deal, Horry County Council sought to make two changes. County leaders said their approval would be contingent upon all Grand Strand cities supporting the proposal — Loris and Conway didn’t even vote on it — and they refused to pay attorney fees with hospitality fee money. 

The city refused to accept those terms. In January, city officials went further, filing motions saying they should be allowed to raise new allegations in a lower court.

Specifically, the city wants to return to the lower court to challenge the validity of the hospitality fee and whether it can be collected anywhere — even in unincorporated Horry.

In the matter before the S.C. Supreme Court, the city also sought to supplement the record, including providing evidence of a rejected settlement. However, the court denied that motion on May 22.

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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I'm the editor of myhorrynews.com and the Carolina Forest Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Horry County, South Carolina. I cover county government, the justice system and agriculture. Know of a story that needs to be covered? Call me at 843-488-7236.

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