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Median: Landscape groups seek more reliable funding

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Representatives from the four organizations that maintain the landscaped corridor on Highway 17 from Pawleys Island to Murrells Inlet will meet with Georgetown County Council Members John Thomas and Steve Goggans Friday to discuss future financing of the project.

President Tom Leis told members of the Litchfield Beautification Foundation Wednesday that he is hoping to start a discussion about making part of the median’s maintenance a line item in the county budget. Leis, Gairy Nichols of Garden City Beach Community Association, Leo Harootyan of Pawleys Island Highway Beautification Program and Renee Williamson, executive director of Murrels Inlet 2020 are scheduled to meet with the council members.

Leis said the city of Mount Pleasant spends $850,000 to maintain 13.2 miles of median landscaping on Highway 17, and Horry County recently took over highway landscaping from various groups, citing its importance for tourism. The cost of highway landscape maintenance will be going up in a year when the new median between Waverly and Baskervill roads is completed.

Litchfield Beautification Foundation requested $25,000 to help maintain the corridor from the Georgetown County Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee. Leis told the Litchfield group this week that Bill Renault, a resident of The Tradition, helped convince his fellow committee members that the Litchfield median was the gold standard of highway beautification and to recommend $16,100. Georgetown County Council raised the award to $19,100 on Tuesday. “Bill Renault saved the day when he stood up for us,” Leis said. Because the foundation raises 80 percent of its budget privately, Leis added, it’s not fair to make up for the shortfall in accommodations taxes from its reserve fund.

Treasurer Ken Dewell said the group needs to develop a long-term strategy for maintaining the median that does not depend on fluctuating county accommodations taxes. The Litchfield foundation has put about $150,000 into reserve to replace the median in case of a natural disaster. The fact that the foundation has money in reserve hurts its case with the accommodations tax committee, he said. “Word is out that we have a reserve. In the mind of that board, we are pretty flush,” he added.

Dewell said the foundation is looking into insurance for the landscaping that would eliminate the need for a $200,000 reserve.

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