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Highway 17: Landscape programs see grants pruned by committee
By Charles Swenson
While they don’t agree on what Georgetown County should spend to maintain landscaped medians, the group that recommends funding and the groups that request it agree there needs to be a baseline.
“It would probably allow us to walk away from A-tax,” said Ken Dewell, treasurer of the Litchfield Beautification Foundation, which maintains 3.8 miles of Highway 17 landscaping. “We feel like we pretty much have this down to bare bones.” The foundation received a recommendation of $22,000 toward its $25,000 request to the county Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee for maintenance funds for the coming year. The foundation budget is $108,600.
Four groups sought a total of $125,582 toward Highway 17 landscaping. The Pawleys Island Highway Beautification Program was cut from $37,082 to $26,000. Murrells Inlet 2020, which contracts for mowing and litter pickup on Bypass 17, was cut to $39,000 from $43,200. Only the Garden City Beach Community Association, which maintains less than half a mile on Bypass 17 at the county line, got its full funding: $20,300. That also includes removing sand from the sidewalk along South Waccamaw Drive.
Sean Bond, who chairs the advisory committee, said the beautification projects “a good and valid request,” but he added, “we do have a lot of requests.” The landscape project accounted for under 14 percent of all the requests for funding, but the committee had to trim those requests by about $100,000 to stay within budget.
Committee member Kathi Grace proposed cutting another $3,000 from the Litchfield request. She didn’t get a second. Committee member Lauren Joseph pointed out no one maintains the median from DeBordieu north to the start of Pawleys Island Highway Beautification Program around Hagley “and it doesn’t look that bad.”
Bond suggested the groups look for an “economy of scale” for the entire highway corridor. “Some of your money is just cutting the grass,” he said. “It would be nice, collectively, to have a conversation with the county.”
County Council members, who are due to vote on the advisory committee recommendations next month, say that conversation is continuing. “It is my hope and goal” to consolidate the landscape maintenance, Council Member John Thomas said. “We need to get the county back on to trying to get a standard cost per mile.”
One difficulty is that the medians have different levels of landscaping, Council Member Steve Goggans said. “There needs to be some commonality in terms of treatment.” The county’s decision this summer to fund the maintenance of plants in the raised median on Highway 17 in the Pawleys Island business district was supposed to help set that standard. But Goggans said that area is harder to maintain because much of the work must be done by hand.
“My long-term goal, and I think the county’s, should be to have an attractive streetscape all the way from the county line to the bridge” over the Waccamaw River, Goggans said. “It’s important to tourism and attracting people to live here.”
While the Litchfield Beautification Foundation gets about 80 percent of its funds from property owners associations, businesses and individuals, the Pawleys area program has fewer options. Leo Harootyan, who chairs the group, said they recently went to all the businesses in their area. “None were willing to provide any funds,” he told the advisory committee. “The auto dealers don’t feel this is necessarily a good way to advertise their business.”
Meredith Millen, executive director of Murrells Inlet 2020, told the committee the median on Bypass 17 didn’t register as a priority when it developed a strategic plan, but the group felt it was important for the area. And it increased its request to pay for more work, such as trimming bushes. “We feel we need more than we’re currently doing,” she said.
The group is also looking at getting trees from the state’s Palmetto Pride beautification program that volunteers could plant along the highway corridor.
“All of us have different ideas of what the standard should be,” Ron Eaglin, who chairs the Litchfield Beautification Foundation, told the committee, suggesting it could encourage the county to move forward with establishing a baseline for funding. “It’s going to take that type of citizen committee saying lets get some consistency.”
This is the first time that the county will deal with accommodations tax grants in one annual review. It previously awarded funds twice a year. Whether the council will restore funds for the landscaping projects is uncertain, but it is likely to make up a $12,000 cut recommended by the advisory committee in funding for the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office beach patrol.
The sheriff’s office asked for $124,934, which covers the salary and benefits for two deputies. The committee recommended $112,500. “It continues to grow. It continues to be funded by A-tax,” Joseph said.
The advisory committee has regularly proposed cuts in funding. The council has always overturned them.
The county Tourism Management Commission put in the largest request, $500,000 to supplement the portion of accommodations tax it already receives to market the county to visitors. The advisory committee recommended $450,000, but when it got through the list of 13 requests found it had another $10,689 to spend. That was added to the tourism commission grant.
In the current fiscal year, the commission has budgeted $410,000 in additional accommodations tax grants. It expects to have $467,000 cash in hand at the end of the year.
The county Parks and Recreation Department was recommended for full funding ($53,670) for maintaining beach accesses and bike routes. The Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association was also approved for its full request ($61,500) for trash pickup, lighting and maintenance at walkways in Litchfield and North Litchfield.
Murrells Inlet 2020 was denied a $16,000 request to pay for its office. Millen said it functions as a visitors center for the area. A Bunnelle Foundation grant that paid the group’s rent last year was not funded this year.
Committee member Billy Nichols said the request “brought to light the fact that there is no chamber [of commerce] representation from either county” in Murrells Inlet.
Bond said he hoped the tourism commission, which gets staff support under a contract with the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, would take note. “We could definitely benefit from some additional administrative funding,” said Jennifer Norman, the county tourism development director.
Two requests for events in the city of Georgetown were also cut. The Georgetown School of Arts and Sciences was recommended for $5,000 of the $8,000 it wanted for its annual Shakespeare festival, which features two performances by the American Shakespeare Co. The Georgetown Business Association was recommended for $14,000 of the $25,000 it wants for a series of summer beach music concerts.
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