Biden Rescue Plan, impact fees give Horry more project cash

Even though Horry County’s annual budget for the rest of 2021 and first half of 2022 recently went into affect, the county has — and is soon to receive — new funds for infrastructure and other sigificant projects via federal aid money and newly imposed fee.

The first pot of new money — $34.39 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan — was received by the county in June and county leaders are beginning to outline the types of projects they’ll spend the money on. Members of the public will also have an opportunity through July and August to offer input on what they think the money should be spent on. Horry County is set to receive the second half of its $68.8 million total next summer.

The second pot of money — about $3.42 million from Horry County’s newly-enacted impact fees, which are set to take affect this fall — will be collected by the end of the year, and County Council members are currently debating where to spend the first round of the fee collections.

Because impact fees were enacted after the county’s regular budget process, and because the American Rescue Plan money is one-time funds, the money available from each represents spending above and beyond the $739 million budget the county approved in late June. Impact fees, a new charge on newly-constructed homes, hotels and businesses, were enacted in mid-July.

The American Rescue Plan money comes will a number of restrictions and guidelines for how the county can spend it. For example, the money can’t be used for employee pensions, paying off debt, settling lawsuits or padding rainy day funds. But generally, the money can be used on infrastructure and other “community impact” projects. The federal government has advised municipalities that chunks of the money can be spent in certain areas, including public health, recovering from negative economic impacts and infrastructure.

Here’s how that project list is shaping up:

  • 5%, or $3.4 million, for “public health.” These funds could be spent on pay for county emergency personnel, county officials advised. The American Rescue Plan includes a provision, though, that if a municipality spends the one-time funds on a recurring cost like employee pay, the municipality has to outline how it will sustain that funding with other means once the federal money runs out.
  • 45%, or $31 million, for recovery from negative economic impacts. County leaders outlined a number of possible uses for these funds, including building new beach bathrooms, adding beach parking, building the Rural Civic and Equestrian Center or building industrial park infrastructure.
  • 10%, or $6.9 million, for “services to disproportionately impacted communities.” County leaders advised that these funds could build new “pocket parks,” help build new affordable housing or help pay for improvements to Coast RTA public transit, including adding a touchless pay system to the buses.
  • 10%, or $6.9 million, for infrastructure, particularly drinking water, stormwater and wastewater projects. County leaders advised that these funds could be spent on stormwater projects around the county.
  • 18.5%, or $12.7 million, for government services. These funds could be spent on upgrading county government cyber security, improving remote working capabilities for county workers or improving county facilities.
  • 11.5%, or $8 million, for administrative costs to spend the money appropriately and file all needed federal reports between this year and 2024 when the funds must be spent by.

Assistant County Administrator Barry Spivey said at a County Council committee meeting last week that county officials would work to spend other available funds on certain projects first before dipping into the Rescue Plan money. For example, he said, if the county decided to spend some of those funds on building affordable housing, the county would first use other pots of money that can be used for affordable housing before spending the Rescue Plan funds.

“If we could fund it out of one of those other sources, we would do that first and allow that money to go even further,” he said.

Until August 17, Horry County will accept input from the public on how best to spend the American Rescue Plan money. Then, on Aug. 12 at 3 p.m. there will be a public hearing on how to spend the funds. By late August, County Council members should begin voting to approve a formalized spending plan.

The impact fee budget

In addition to the American Rescue Plan funds, Horry County will also have a little more than $3 million from its newly-enacted impact fees to spend this year. That’s the amount that county leaders estimate the county will collect from the new fee by the end of the year. Like the coronavirus relief package, impact fees come with a number of restrictions for how and where the county can spend them. For example, since Horry County is only charging impact fees to help pay for public safety, waste management and parks and recreation, it can only spend the money in those designated areas.

Here’s the preliminary budget for that money:

  • $867,432 for parks;
  • $641,524 for “fire apparatuses” like new fire trucks;
  • $565,249 for waste management facilities around the county;
  • $502,568 for fire stations;
  • $168,940 for police stations;
  • $117,636 for the emergency operations center;
  • $84,842 for boat landings;
  • $55,556 for the animal shelter;
  • $52,620 for beach accesses;
  • $36,566 for trails;
  • $23,754 for public safety software;
  • $20,177 waste management center land;
  • $12,826 for a fire training facility.

County Council members will still have to finalize and vote on the budget for this money in coming weeks. Council member Harold Worley, who represents North Myrtle Beach, said he was generally happy with the outlined budgets for both the Rescue Plan and impact fee monies.

“I see some areas on there that are much worse (off) than others but it’s probably okay for right now,” he said.

At a meeting last week, some members said they’d like to see more of the impact fee money pay for equipment for the emergency operations center. The county is currently working to move staff into newly built emergency operations center and Randy Webster, the assistant county administrator for public safety, said he’d like to keep some working equipment in the old facility for use as a backup in case of a major storm or other emergency. That way, he explained, the county will use the new center first and most frequently but will have a backup just in case.

“The idea is to get here and keep rolling,” Webster said. “The opportunity is too good to pass.”

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J. Dale Shoemaker covers Horry County government with a focus on government transparency, data and how the county government serves residents. A 2016 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, he previously covered Pittsburgh city government for the nonprofit news outlet PublicSource and worked on the Data & Investigations team at in New Jersey. A recipient of several local and statewide awards, both the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania and the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone State chapter, recognized him in 2019 for his investigation into a problematic Pittsburgh Police technology contractor, a series that lead the Pittsburgh City Council to enact a new transparency law for city contracting. You can share tips with Dale at [email protected].