The North Myrtle Beach City Council held its fiscal year 2021 budget retreat meeting Feb. 24-25 at Santee Cooper’s Wampee Conference Center in Pinopolis which was open to the public.
The city’s fiscal year is July 1-June 30.
The proposed budget involves 17 separate funds with significant interrelations and transfers between the various funds.
The proposed FY 2021 budget is about $119 million, an increase of about $27 million over the FY 2020 budget.
The budget proposes a property tax increase of about 7.9 mils, most of which would go toward funding an expansion of the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex. The proposed tax millage increase equates to a $79 property tax increase on a $250,000 owner-occupied home and 50 percent more on a nonresidential property of equal value.
In 2019, using a short-term loan, the city paid $4.2 million for the purchase of 96 acres adjacent to the existing 162-acre Park & Sports Complex. Part of the revenue generated by the proposed 7.9 mils increase would pay off the short-term loan, the rest to fund payments on a multi-year bond issue for construction of six new ballfields, seven soccer/lacrosse fields, a family entertainment center, a possible water-play area and more.
Staff introduced the expansion project and its currently projected cost of about $25 million to City Council at the budget retreat in order to get a feel for Council’s appetite for the project. Council liked the project and the positive financial and quality of life impacts it offers North Myrtle Beach. City management will now move toward getting more precise figures on costs for each element within the project, enabling City Council to come to a better understanding of whether to bond all of the proposed improvements at one time, do key elements now and save some for the future or do some of the proposed amenities but not others.
City Council has indicated that the proposed millage increase of 7.9 mils could decrease by the same amount after retiring the bond. Council took that approach with the millage increase that helped fund the original Park & Sports Complex.
The city’s current property tax rate is 37.1 mils. For the current budget year, City Council reduced its millage rate by 6.1 mils to reflect the end of the eight-year bond issue with which the city purchased 162 acres and constructed the original Park & Sports Complex. If the proposed 7.9 mils increase is adopted, the city’s new property tax rate would be 45 mils, still one of the lowest in Horry County and South Carolina for a full-service city.
Since opening in March 2014, the Park & Sports Complex generated over $100 million in new, direct revenue for the North Myrtle Beach economy, primarily in the off-season. The facility has attracted over two million visitors. The expanded facility would enable the city to compete for and host larger sports tourism events and host multiple events simultaneously. It would also position the city to provide continued opportunities for its growing youth and adult recreation leagues and add increased entertainment, festival, special events and other opportunities for residents and visitors alike.
The proposed budget includes construction of the 18th Avenue North Ocean Outfall beginning in fall 2020. Construction would occur over two years in the fall, winter and early spring months. While other outfalls were funded through a bond issue, the city delayed this new outfall by a couple of years in order to accomplish the estimated $14 million project ($12 million city and $2 million state) without borrowing funds. Smaller storm water drainage projects are also included in the proposed budget.
The proposed budget includes initial funding for an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and a Data Management Center (DMC) on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. These facilities would be constructed in phases over a couple of years and would share a site with a new fire station, the latter coming on line several years from now to serve development in the city limits on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The EOC would provide the city with a secure, centralized facility from which to manage severe impacts to North Myrtle Beach from category 3 and stronger hurricanes. Currently, the city does not have emergency operations capabilities west of the waterway.
The DMC would provide the city with added redundancy and a secure location from which to continue to run the city in the event a major hurricane or other disaster compromised infrastructure located east of the waterway.
The proposed budget includes funding to help establish a free June 15-August 15 Coast RTA bus route in North Myrtle Beach, utilizing two buses that offer residents and visitors the opportunity to park their cars and ride to multiple locations along Highway 17 and Ocean Boulevard.
Coast RTA will also establish a paid bus route that continues bus travel into North Myrtle Beach as part of a route that currently ends in Myrtle Beach. The service, which would begin in October, would have multiple stops in the city.
For both offerings, Coast RTA offers an app that shows where its buses are and when they will arrive at specific locations.
Coast RTA, the city, the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce and others will promote both bus services when they are finalized.
Equipment replacement for departments continues on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Under the proposed budget, the year-end balance for the General Fund would be about $12.5 million, above the 35 percent fund balance policy.
Funding for beach renourishment will come from state accommodations tax funds. The city sets aside funding each year to ensure its ability to participate in the major federal beach renourishment program that occurs every 10 years or so.
The proposed budget projects Beach Services showing a profit and net equity in excess of $1.2 million at the close of the FY 2021 budget cycle.
The employee Pay-for-Performance matrix remains the same as for FY 2020.
General Obligation debt remains at $0 until issuance of the proposed Park Improvement Bonds occurs.
City Council discussed the possibility of initiating a long-term focus on public art for city parks and other public areas. Council members instructed the planning department to assess what other cities of similar size have accomplished in this regard and to report back to them.