Myrtle Beach city leaders are making a list of legislative priorities to take to Columbia.
The city has prioritized the list ranging from vaping and 5G towers to short-term rentals and business licenses. They support state legislation on a few of the items on the list, but argue the rest contrast the city’s goals.
City Manager John Pedersen said the state House of Representatives will be discussing a bill to reform business license fees derived from gross revenue to come from business taxable income.
“It would devastate the city,” he told the city council on Tuesday.
The bill, H4431, is in committee. To become an act it must pass votes in the state House and Senate and then be approved by the governor.
Pedersen said the bill overhauls the way business fees are collected. He said the city relies on nearly 40% of its general fund to come from business license fees, which are generally based on a proportional scale of the business’ revenue. The bill, he said, flattens out the charge and nearly eliminates collecting fees from businesses that are not headquartered in the city.
Currently, Pedersen said, business license fees pay for many of the services in the city. Those fees are collected by the businesses that pass on the cost to the visitors, he said. If the bill was passed as it stands, the burden of paying for city services would shift from 18 million visitors to 35,000 residents. That shift would result in a tax increase to pay for public services including police, fire and infrastructure.
Another bill opposed by the city is also from the state House and is also in committee.
It prohibits municipalities from restricting short-term rentals in residential areas.
The city currently prohibits renting property less than 30 days in residentially zoned neighborhoods, although there are about 35 properties that were grandfathered to allow for the rentals such as an Airbnb.
“This is a situation where the ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work, particularly in a community like Myrtle Beach,” Pedersen said. “There is a necessity to keep some buffer between the visitor population and the permanent resident population.”
The city is also continuing to oppose legislation dealing with 5G small cell towers as the city balances its support of the new technology with demanding to have control over where the towers are located.
Assistant City Manager Fox Simons said the bill is written so companies such as Verizon, AT&T and Sprint are allowed to install the towers wherever they want in a public right of way.
The 5G towers are generally not as tall as light poles.
Simmons displayed a photograph of a 5G tower in the middle of a sidewalk in Nashville as he discussed the bill with the city council.
“Imagine this going down Ocean Boulevard with our narrow sidewalks,” he said. “This is going to be awful.”
The bill has passed the House and is in a subcommittee in the state Senate.
Myrtle Beach had adopted a “safe harbor” provision allowing for the poles to be placed on top of traffic signals and power poles. It also allowed for the companies to share towers or structures to place their towers. If the bill is passed as is, Simons said, the “safe harbor” provision would be useless.
“We’ve spent millions of dollars to fix up Ocean Boulevard and this could mess it up in one fell swoop,” Pedersen said.
Simons added the bill leaves the municipality responsible if someone gets hurt by running into the tower.
Additionally, the city is opposed to a bill that would prohibit any rules pertaining to ingredients or flavors of electronic cigarettes or vaping juice.
“Now that vaping has been shown to significantly increase health risks, especially among youth, the state should not take a position to increase those risks still further,” Pedersen said.
The city is also opposed to changes in the asset forfeiture and private property act that is in committees in the House and Senate.
The act addresses forfeitures ordered by judges once someone has been arrested. It is an answer to multiple reports of the current law being abused in the Greenville area.
An Horry County judge ruled the state’s civil asset forfeiture law unconstitutional earlier this year.
Currently, the state allows for property to be seized if it is tied to an existing charge. For instance, a person is arrested for selling drugs while sitting in a Jeep and pocketing a wad of money along with a gun tucked under the seat. The Jeep, money and gun can all be seized and a judge can order the property to be forfeited.
The state allows for 75% of the forfeiture to go to the arresting agency, 20% to the solicitor and 5% to the state. The law allows for the first $1,000 of a forfeiture to be used by the arresting agency for its own needs while the remaining amount is earmarked for drug enforcement.
“Given the nationwide battle to curb the opioid epidemic, this is not the time to take tools away from law enforcement,” Pedersen said. “The abuses of the few can be dealt with effectively by tweaking the current law.”
Another item on the list includes seeking representation on the Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority’s board of directors. The city is the largest single customer of the authority, but does not have representation on the eight-member board of directors. A state law sets the makeup of the board so adding a seat for Myrtle Beach would require an amendment.