Where you live matters

It’s no surprise that our millions of visitors who vacation here tend to think of the whole place as “Myrtle Beach.”  They’re busy enjoying all that the Grand Strand has to offer and rarely have reason to wonder if they’re in Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach or simply unincorporated Horry County.  But what about local residents who live here full-time?  Shouldn’t they know where they live, exactly – and where they pay taxes and vote – and where the different jurisdictions generally stop and start?

Far too many people think that if it’s east of Conway, south of Atlantic Beach or north of Garden City, it must be in Myrtle Beach!  But Surfside Beach, Socastee, Carolina Forest, Lake Arrowhead, Plantation Pointe, Briarcliffe Acres, Forestbrook, Restaurant Row and Shore Drive, among others, are NOT within the actual City of Myrtle Beach.  Sure, you may have a “Myrtle Beach” mailing address, courtesy of the U.S. Post Office, but that doesn’t automatically make you a city resident.

Part of the confusion stems from South Carolina’s strict annexation rules.  The General Assembly has not resolved the quirky “doughnut hole” problem, where unincorporated areas are completely surrounded by incorporated areas.  The Racepath community on Grissom Parkway is one example; Broadway Station Condominiums on 38th Avenue North are another.  Neither is in the genuine City of Myrtle Beach, but each is completely surrounded by the city.

Unlike other states, cities and towns in South Carolina cannot easily annex adjacent, urbanized areas.  This leads to confusion because two properties next door to each other may share the same street, ZIP Code and “Myrtle Beach” address, yet only one is within the city limits.  In other states, such urbanized areas become part of the nearest city; they benefit from having the city next door and, by joining the city, contribute to the success of a larger area.  Not so in SC.

It would be hard to conceive of a worse way to deliver good public service to the citizens of South Carolina than by allowing these enclaves to exist.  If the lawmakers in Columbia would let cities and towns annex the adjacent, obviously urbanized areas, our cities and towns would be much stronger and the public would be better off.  Cities and towns offer a higher level of service than unincorporated areas.  How is that a bad thing?  As with most of life, you tend to get what you pay for.

Even the local news media frequently get it wrong by labeling events that occur outside city limits as being “in Myrtle Beach” in their news stories.  All of Myrtle Beach is in Horry County, but only a small part of the county is inside the City of Myrtle Beach.  If you say it’s “in Myrtle Beach,” then it truly ought to be inside the city limits.

During the November city election, a few Horry County residents were shocked to learn that they were not city residents, and therefore could not vote in the municipal election.  Seven individuals were so sure of their right to vote that they were granted provisional ballots due to their persistence.  Alas, they were in fact NOT city residents and voters, and those provisional ballots were rejected by the Election Commission.

“This is one more example that proves why it is important to know where you live,” said Mark Kruea, Myrtle Beach’s public information officer.  “Where you live makes a difference.  City residents have rights and responsibilities that non-residents don’t have.  City residents have city police and fire protection, can vote in elections and get many other city services.  In return, they pay city taxes and abide by city laws.”

In recent weeks, we’ve had several complaints about horses and manure on the beach, south of Springmaid Pier.  Guess what?  The state park and the campgrounds are not in the City of Myrtle Beach.  Instead, they are under the county’s jurisdiction.  Springmaid Pier itself is just outside the city limits on the south end.  On the north end, The Dunes Club Golf Course and Clubhouse also are outside the city limits.

Everyone understands why visitors may not need to know where the real Myrtle Beach begins and ends.  Vacationers enjoy the region’s beautiful beaches, sights, restaurants and shops without taking much notice of a particular jurisdiction.  That’s why it’s nice to have a name like “the Grand Strand” to encompass the area as a whole.

We also understand that it may take new residents a while to figure out where they live, pay taxes or vote, because they’ve just relocated.  But what excuse can long-term, local residents give?  How do you not know who provides your police and fire service, whether you pay city taxes on your home or car, who picks up your trash and which elected officials represent you after several years of residency?  Again, where you live matters.

How can a county resident find out where he or she lives, pays taxes and votes?  Whether you are a new resident to Horry County or one of the “20-year folk,” here are a few ways to help determine where you live.

Vehicle Tax Bill

Check your property tax bill.  Look at the vehicle tax notice accompanying this post.  Note that no city property taxes were paid on this car, because the car isn’t registered inside the city.  Are you paying taxes just to Horry County and the school district, or are you paying taxes to the City of Myrtle Beach (or another city), too?

Take a look at your garbage can and your solid waste service.  Does the can say “City of Myrtle Beach” and are the people who pick up your garbage wearing city uniforms and driving a blue-and-white city vehicle?  Utility bills aren’t foolproof, as the City of Myrtle Beach provides water and sewer service to some unincorporated areas – at double the rates.  (There’s some savings to be had by annexing into the city limits!)

Better yet, Horry County’s online GIS application offers a helpful mapping tool to locate the jurisdictions.  If you’re interested, visit www.horrycounty.org/gis/parcels/.  Zoom in on the area of the map where you live.  Next, select and expand the “municipalities” tab, then click any of the municipalities listed.  Each municipality is coded to appear in a specific color.  Areas that do not show a color represent the unincorporated areas of Horry County.  Is your home in the county or one of the cities and towns?

Myrtle Beach isn’t as large as some people assume, but living in the actual Myrtle Beach has numerous benefits.  As we said, where you live matters.