NORTH MYRTLE BEACH — Residents of this resort city overwhelmingly denied a new tax on Tuesday that would have funneled millions into tourism advertising.
With all seven precincts reporting in the preliminary count, 94 percent of voters turned down implementing a Tourism Development Fee, a 1 percent sales tax. Official results will be certified on Thursday.
The results mean it will be two years before the tax can be brought up for approval again. Eighty percent of the revenue from the fee is earmarked for tourism promotion, with the other 20 percent available for both property tax rollbacks and city initiatives.
The city of North Myrtle Beach did not take an official position on whether to enact the tax, though there has been tension for the past two years between the City Council and the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. The chamber had wanted the tax to pass by a vote of the council, not a referendum.
Councilwoman Nikki Fontana said she voted no on the ballot question.
"I'm glad that people spoke about what they wanted, that's their choice...I voted no because I believe the city is not ready for this," she said.
George DuRant of the North Myrtle Beach chamber declined to comment on the vote and said his group would release a statement on Wednesday.
Tuesday night was the first time that voters were able to weigh in on whether their city should levy the tax for tourism promotion. About 20 percent of the city's roughly 15,000 registered voters came to the polls, on par with the amount that voted in last fall's municipal elections.
Myrtle Beach is the only city in South Carolina that has already enacted a TDF, which was done by a vote of the City Council in 2009. That panel will have to re-approve it or send it to a referendum before it expires in 2019.
The tax has still proved politically popular among many voters there, where residents get an 80 percent break on their annual property tax bills. The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce also received $27.2 million in revenue from the tax in fiscal year 2016.
But the benefit to homeowners in North Myrtle Beach was less clear. City estimates showed that the North Myrtle Beach chamber could have received as much as $8.5 million in annual funding from the tax, which would be allocated for out-of-area marketing.
The minimum property tax benefit would have been $51 for a house assessed at $250,000 in value.
Fontana said the City Council is looking to other spending priorities, like drainage projects, securing more parking near the beach and raising city employees' salaries.
"You've got to have a product before you market," she said.