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“Frivolous” is how the city of Myrtle Beach describes a motion filed by Horry County Schools in the district’s fight with the city over plans to continue redeveloping the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.

The county school system and Horry County Government joined together in a lawsuit opposing the city and the Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority more than a year ago.

What is at stake is the issuance of $13 million in bonds to be used at the former Air Force Base and the surplus funds that may be allocated to each government.

The school district has argued it was promised a school in the area when redevelopment plans were made but the new plans do not include the school.

Mike Shelton, chief financial officer for the city, has said there was a 2007 plan for a school to serve about 650 students but now only 200 children from kindergarten through fifth grade live there and the redevelopment authority no longer controls enough land for a school.

The redevelopment authority is in charge of making the infrastructure plans in what was established as a Tax Increment Financial (TIF) district, which is a financing tool governments can use to pay for redevelopment projects. This type of district allows governments to borrow money to pay for upgrades to areas they want to improve — often places that are or could become run-down — and use the property tax revenues from those projects cover the debt. The process allows a city to enhance a specific community without a tax hike. 

This TIF district includes nearly 4,000 acres of the former Air Force base located between Kings Highway and U.S. 17 Bypass south of the airport and north of the Myrtle Beach State Park. Much of the area was base buildings used from the 1950s until the base closed in 1993.

It now includes The Market Common residential and retail district, an Horry Georgetown Technical College campus, the updated Whispering Pines golf course, multiple housing developments and city parks with recreation facilities.

Shelton has said the redevelopment authority can continue to function as long as there are ongoing projects in the district.

The authority is made of three appointed members from the city, three appointed by county council and three appointed by the state.

The $13 million in bonds was earmarked to be spent on a restroom at Valor Park, a third level at the parking deck, improvements at another parking area, playground equipment in the Howard Avenue median, infrastructure improvements suitable for hotel development, cameras for public streets and a police annex expansion.

The city has not been able to sell the bonds since the lawsuit was filed.

School board chairman Ken Richardson takes issue not only with the city’s plans for the district, but with Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune’s recent comments on social media disagreeing with a decision the board made regarding the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology.

“I felt like it was a negative remark aimed at the school board. How can she go on social media and give her opinion like that about the school board? At the same time she’s doing that, she says she cares about the kids and is trying to build a new school in Myrtle Beach, while she’s taking a $20 million school from us [the district],” Richardson said on Wednesday.

He said the $20 million was to be used to build a school on the former base.

“The city of Myrtle Beach has enough lawsuits going on right now against them. She needs to be worrying about the city of Myrtle Beach and let me worry about the school district,” he said.

Shelton has explained in the past if the lawsuit is dropped and the bonds are issued to support the new improvement plans, the authority may be able to declare surplus funds that could be distributed a decade sooner than if the plans were not modified. He said the money could be spent any way the jurisdictions want.

Shelton had said the surplus money paid to the city would be $1.3 million annually, or $42.5 million over the remaining life of the TIF. The county’s part of the surplus would be $900,000 annually, or $28.7 million for the life of the TIF. The school system would get $2.1 million annually, or $73 million for the life of the TIF.

He has said the city has until 2020 to issue the $13 million TIF bonds on the district. The current TIF bonds are set to expire in 2036. The new $13 million bonds would expire at the same time.

The state legislature included all three taxing jurisdictions – city, county and school district, according to the city’s public information officer Mark Kruea. None of the three can withdraw from the state-created TIF and they don’t have to agree on the project list.

The school system’s recent court filing has asked for more documents, the supplied documents to be delivered in another format such as a PDF and that all of the information be organized.

The city’s response on Wednesday was the city has already provided everything the school system as requested, it organized the documents and it is not required to convert documents into another format it does not currently use.

The city has called the school system’s request a “frivolous exercise” and a “transparent delay.”

The city’s response goes on to ask the court to sanction the school district and to reimburse the city for expenses.

“In making this motion, Plaintiffs level extraordinarily false and malicious allegations against the City that are borne solely out of Plaintiffs’ ignorance of the law and a stubborn unwillingness and lack of diligence, effort, and good faith to self-educate,” the city’s response reads.

Shelton said last year the $73 million earmarked for the school district in surplus funds is more than three times the $20 million that was included for a school in the decade-old plan for the former base.

The school system has built five new schools for $220 million in the last few years. The most expensive school was Socastee Middle School at $47.7 million with the least expensive as Socastee Elementary School at $37.9 million.

A “still evolving” partnership between Coastal Carolina University and the city of Myrtle Beach could result in a new K-8 charter school in the downtown Myrtle Beach area.

“We want all the components that make it thrive,” Bethune said recently. “We’ve always done a lot to offer great things for our visitors, but we’re also a community where residents live and where businesses invest their dollars. Partnering with CCU was a natural fit." 

Charter schools in the county receive money each year from Horry County Schools on a per-student basis. Bethune said this charter school would receive no money from the school district.

Richardson confirmed the district is not involved in the K-8 school.

The redevelopment authority recently received a national award from the Environmental Protection Agency for its work transforming the former base into The Market Common area.

The city is also embroiled in a separate and unrelated lawsuit with Horry County over the use of hospitality fees and spending them on a proposed I-73 project.

The two parties, the city and Horry County, are expected to be in mediation Thursday.

Janet Morgan is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. Contact her at 843-488-7258 or at janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com.

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