Parking fee remains an option as South Carolina town shifts focus to beach fund

A proposal to help fund beach renourishment by charging a parking fee at Pawleys Island (South Carolina) beach accesses narrowly survived a vote to kill the idea. The town’s ad hoc finance committee this week deadlocked on a motion to drop the proposed fee from its recommendation to Town Council.

The town is looking for ways to raise about $800,000 a year to fund ongoing renourishment after a project that is expected to start this fall puts up to 1.1 million cubic yards of offshore sand on about 2 miles of beach starting at the south end. The Corps of Engineers will fund 65 percent of the project on the narrow south end. The town will fund the northern portion with funds accumulated from a local tax on short-term rentals and with a state grant. The town will be required to pay half the cost of future renourishments on the south end.

The committee agreed to focus only on long-term beach funding rather than funding town operating costs because the Town Council has already started cutting some costs to balance its operating budget.

Pawleys Island has no municipal property tax. Under current state law, it needs approval of the General Assembly to implement one. A bill pending in the legislature would allow Pawleys Island, and other towns without a property tax, to adopt a tax rate equal to a third of general fund expenses. For Pawleys Island that would work out to $145,000 to $280,000, depending on how the general fund is defined.

The finance committee had ruled out several revenue-raising options because the money wasn’t enough to justify the administrative expense. But if the property tax bill passes, “we’re going to need to go back and revisit the nickel and dime numbers,” committee member Glenn Kornahrens said.

But Josh Ricker, who chairs the committee, pointed out that the parking fee was still an option. He estimates that it could raise $175,000 a year using 10 kiosks that would dispense tickets for $2 an hour parking.

Committee member Harry Oxner said it was premature to talk about the fee without knowing whether the state, which owns the road rights-of-way, and the county, which owns the south end parking lot, would approve. “Why are we going to sit here and discuss it for hours?” he asked.

Town Council Members Guerry Green and Sarah Zimmerman, who serve on the 10-member committee, were on opposite sides of the 4-4 vote.

“When I park my boat over at Hagley, I don’t have people say, ‘this is my river,’” Green said.

“What if it was only the south end?” Zimmerman asked, referring to the county parking lot.

Former Mayor Bill Otis, a non-voting member of the committee, said that would lead more people to look for roadside parking, probably at the island’s north end. “You’re pushing everybody financially to move up to the north end and park in front of somebody’s house, and that’s not fair,” he said.

The parking fee isn’t just a way to raise money, Ricker said. “The beach has a cost and that cost has to be born by the people who use the beach,” he said. “Our beach is broken.”

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