Interstate funding

Trucks travel through the interchange of S.C. 31 and S.C. 22. The proposed I-73 will one day feed into S.C. 22 (below).

Horry County Government will ask the S.C. Department of Transportation to give the county until Oct. 1 to approve a work plan for I-73.

County officials were supposed to sign off on $12.4 million worth of DOT road projects before June 30, but the funding source for that work remains a question mark. 

County officials hope that continuing to support the DOT contract will keep Horry in contention for a federal grant for I-73.

“It would be good to keep it available — just in case,” said council chairman Johnny Gardner, adding that county officials would have to give the DOT 30 days’ notice if they want to abandon the contract. 

County council voted for the DOT contract late last year. The first work plan proposed by the state includes road design and right-of-way acquisitions for I-73. The plan also calls for a $410,000 study of S.C. 22, which flooded after Hurricane Florence. The study would look at the cost of raising that road above flood conditions.  

County leaders had planned to use hospitality fee revenues to pay for the I-73 projects, but that fee is the subject of a legal dispute between the county and local municipalities.

Earlier this year, the cities of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach opted to overhaul the hospitality fee system that has been in place for more than 20 years. The cities do not want the county to continue collecting the hospitality fee inside city limits, and they no longer plan to share any similar revenues with the county.

During a court hearing Friday, lawyers for both sides sparred over the fees, with the cities’ lawyer arguing that the county needs their permission to continue collecting fees inside municipal borders. 

County officials asked that the court issue an injunction preventing the cities from imposing new fee structures, which are scheduled to take effect July 1.

Court records filed Tuesday afternoon indicate Judge William Seals has made a decision in the matter, but his order has not been filed.

Council members discussed the lawsuit during a closed-door session Tuesday. Afterwards, some were not optimistic about the pending order. They said the cities' attorney would be preparing an order for the judge’s review, not the county’s lawyer.

Regardless of which side prevails, the order does not end the case. But if the county is barred from collecting the 1.5 percent hospitality fee on all prepared foods, hotel admissions and attraction tickets in the incorporated areas, that would drastically reduce the amount of revenue county officials would have available for the I-73 contract. 

In March, U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao touting the DOT contract as a reason for I-73 to receive a federal grant. Rice wrote that Horry County planned to commit $300 million to the project. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott also signed the letter.

Rice could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

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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