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Hospitality Fee could continue indefinitely, help fund future projects for Horry County

Horry County Council took steps to keep a long-standing hospitality fee in place at their meeting Tuesday night. It generates more than $38 million dollars each year and an estimated 75 percent of it is paid by tourists. (Ashley Gooden/WPDE)

Horry County Council took steps to keep a long-standing hospitality fee in place at their meeting Tuesday night. It generates more than $38 million dollars each year and an estimated 75 percent of it is paid by tourists.

The hospitality fee comes from food, lodging, and admissions, and it pays for projects in the county that involve tourism. The economy is doing so well, the county says it will be paying off the debt from the Ride projects 3 years earlier, and has decided to renew the fee in its present form. That means council has many options on how to spend the money

Changes to SC 22, 31, 544, and four lanes from the Grissom Parkway connector are just a few of the projects that the hospitality fee has funded.

"It would sunset when the bonds were paid off. Well, in 2019 instead of 2022 when it was originally projected, we will have paid off those bonds because the revenues have come in better than we'd anticipated," said Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Horry County Council.

The hospitality fee has an end date, but county council says getting rid of that sunset clause will pay for more projects, including the I-73 project.

"It's going to cost Horry County about $400 million for the Horry County portion to get to the county line. What that will do is help us leverage dollars with the federal government for them to complete the project outside of Horry County to I-95 which is a critical need for us to get interstate access," Lazarus said.

While the hospitality fee was originally for roads and infrastructure, it can also pay for other projects, as long as they're related to tourism.

"Beach patrol or personnel that we allocate that are protecting tourist areas if you will. So, part of it could be allocated, EMS services, the jail -- we house a lot of people from out of state as they're here on vacation," said Lazarus.

The list goes on; beach renourishment, beach parking, and even an equestrian center are a few possibilities.

"When we finish the Ride 3, we voted on it, we still left about $1.3 billion on the table worth of road projects that we know are an immediate need for Horry County. So that money could be used for those projects as we can prove that they're tourism related projects," Lazarus said.

Council says there will never be a shortage of projects and this hospitality fee ordinance leaves future councils flexibility for project funding.

County council also passed a swimming pool ordinance they have been discussing for a while. The new ordinance says if you have a pool, it needs to be in your backyard and must have a privacy fence. That will be enforced after the reading of the minutes at the next meeting.

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