Roughly $5 million in state tax money could be available to beef up law enforcement during next year’s Atlantic Beach Bikefest.
The money, included in the state budget that takes effect Tuesday, is in response to violence during this year’s Bikefest. During the Memorial Day weekend event, three people were shot to death and there were at least seven other shootings.
Compared with 10 years ago, the most serious crimes during Bikefest have more than doubled, to 114 this year from 42 in 2004.
In reaction, Horry County area officials have called for additional law enforcement to head off violence at next year’s Bikefest.
An amendment in the new state budget authorizes a third of the accommodations tax money that is returned to the Horry County area from the state to be used for policing during events held in May – a period that includes Bikefest.
Based on the last fiscal year, that means about $5 million would be available for Horry County and its municipalities, including Myrtle Beach, for policing.
The state budget also could provide additional money for Bikefest security.
That money would come from $1.1 million in “local law enforcement grants” earmarks included in the state budget. How much of that money will go toward policing during Bikefest has not been determined.
The local law enforcement grants were vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley, who said local policing should be paid for locally. However, the S.C. House and state Senate overrode the governor’s veto, ensuring the grants will be available.
Separately, Haley has called for Bikefest to be canceled, citing the violence this year.
But, instead of ending the event, Horry officials requested more money for law enforcement to help reduce crime.
Myrtle Beach Police Department Capt. David Knipes said if additional money is available from the local law enforcement grants it will be used for additional officers and equipment during the 2015 Bikefest.
“We would use that to bolster our law enforcement for next year’s event,” Knipes said.
The Myrtle Beach Police Department has about 190 police officers, Knipes said. But with other departments assisting during Bikefest – including the S.C. Law Enforcement Division and Highway Patrol – the number of officers about doubles to just more than 400.
Where should the money come from?
Not everyone is happy that accommodations tax money will be redirected to pay for policing.
“That’s not what the accommodations tax dollars were set up to do,” Marc Jordan, president of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. “They were set up to market and promote.”
Jordan said Bikefest attracts unlawful activities that don’t take place during other high-trafficked weekends. “People who come here on the Fourth of July – you don’t have to worry about them doing all sorts of illegal activities.”
However, Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus supports using accommodations tax money to bolster security during Bikefest.
“It’s going to take more law enforcement to control the situation,” Lazarus said. “Fortunately, we’re going to have the outlet to be able to pay them.”
More money through local law enforcement grants
The local law enforcement grant money included in the state budget started with a request by state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, who asked for $275,000 for his district.
“North Charleston leads the state in retail sales,” Kimpson said. “However, we have certain communities that have high crime rates. In my view, in order to preserve economic vitality of the city, we have to address the number of assaults, shootings and other types of violent crimes.”
During talks to reconcile the differing budget proposals adopted by the House and Senate, the House added more local policing money to Kimpson’s request.
State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, head of the House Ways and Means law enforcement subcommittee, said the grant money was put in place to cover federal grant money that is disappearing for some agencies.
But he also said some of the money could be used for Bikefest security.
Pitts, a retired Greenville City Police Department officer, said more law enforcement is needed to address violence during Bikefest.
“How does New Orleans handle Mardi Gras? They flood it with law enforcement,” Pitts said.
But Pitts said it is not feasible for the state to provide as much law enforcement as it should for Myrtle Beach during the Memorial Day weekend. That’s because, he said, the state still is suffering from law-enforcement cuts that took place during the Great Recession.
Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, who also chairs the Senate’s budget-writing Finance Committee, said the state needs to do everything it can to make people feel safe.
“I will always be supportive of providing money for law enforcement to have crowd control and make people feel safe so they want to come back to South Carolina,” the Florence Republican said.
State Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, whose district is near Atlantic Beach, also said he supports the additional money for law enforcement.
“Whether it’s Charleston, Columbia or the beach, safety is one of the primary responsibilities government should provide,” he said.
Cleary also supported the amendment allowing part of the accommodations tax to be redirected to policing.
“No matter how many dollars you spend to promote an area, no one will come if they don’t feel safe,” he said.