By Ruben Lowman
North Myrtle Beach City Council unanimously approved second and final reading on this fiscal year’s $89 million amended budget, as well as a 7.9 mils property tax increase within city limits, during a council meeting held last week.
City officials have been left reeling financially by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic since March and as a result, have been forced to cut around $30 million from the projected budget that emerged from their annual retreat in Pinopolis in February. When passing the ordinances last Monday, June 29, Mayor Marilyn Hatley acknowledged the challenging choices those officials, particularly the city manager and finance director, had to make to reduce the budget by such a significant amount.
“I just once again want to reiterate that I appreciate Mr. Mahaney and Randy Wright and his staff and all the department heads for working together on this budget,” Hatley said. “We had to cut the budget drastically this year due to the effects the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has had on our community. And it took a lot of work to change the budget so thank you all for your hard work.”
A few councilmembers, most prominently councilman-at-large Hank Thomas, had previously expressed concern about the effects the proposed tax increase would have, particularly on businesses and second homeowners. But the measure passed unanimously as COVID-19 has forced municipalities to make difficult decisions amid a drastic drop in revenue.
The 7.9 mils tax increase would take the total millage rate to 45 mils in North Myrtle Beach, which is still the lowest in Horry County for a full-service city. This breaks down to a little over $47 more on a $150,000 primary residence home, or roughly $95 extra on a $300,000 home.
There is an additional 50 percent increase on a nonresidential or additional property, bringing the total to around $71 on a property valued at $150,000 or $143 extra on a property worth $300,000.
The budget also carries a 20 percent rate increase on the minimum volume charge on water usage that comes from the Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority.
The vast majority of the $30.2 million that has been cut from the 2021 fiscal year budget has come from delaying several major projects the city had expected to either begin or complete over the next year. They will now be delayed until further notice and more is known about the exact financial ramifications of COVID-19 on the summer season.
The major capital projects centered around a proposed $34 million expansion plan for the Park & Sports Complex that was set to begin construction by this fall. The plan would be carried out over several phases, beginning with building six baseball fields and seven soccer/lacrosse fields, which will now be deferred, saving the city approximately $8 million at this time. The second phase consists of building a 17,000-square foot family entertainment center that includes a 56-game arcade and an interactive playground and TAG obstacle arena, among other amenities, totaling around $10 million. The third phase would encompass the construction of a water park, multiple splash areas, cabanas and a retail store, and cost around $6 million.
City manager Mike Mahaney stated a few weeks ago that the city will continue to draw up the plans and move forward finalizing the specifications for the expansion, as well as the other major projects, so they are ready to start when the time comes to reevaluate them.
“Our intent is we will move forward getting plans and specifications done and by [that] time it’s going to be late in the fall. And we will come back to you at that time and say, ‘Do you want to proceed or do you want to wait?’” Mahaney said.
The 162-acre Park & Sports Complex has brought in over $100 million in revenue to North Myrtle Beach’s economy and attracted more than two million visitors to the city since opening in early 2014. The proposed 96-acre expansion would afford the city with better opportunities to procure more and larger sporting events, while continuing to diversify and increase the options offered to residents and visitors.
The start of the construction of the 18th Avenue North Ocean outfall project will be deferred until next October at the earliest, providing a $9.5 million reduction to the budget, as will several smaller stormwater and drainage projects that will save the city an additional $6.5 million. The city will also save close to another $2 million by delaying a project that would move utilities underground in Cherry Grove as part of the Santee Cooper Underground Utilities Project.
The city will also delay building a new Emergency Operations Center and Data Management Center until a later date, bringing an additional $2 million reduction. The facility would give city leaders a logistical base on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway for formulating and coordinating responses to major storms and disasters.
North Myrtle Beach officials were also forced to freeze 41 full-time vacant and potential employee positions, after furloughing close to 190 people when COVID-19 restrictions first went into place in mid-March.
The current fiscal year began on July 1 and will end next year on June 30.