Hidden Woods residents have second thoughts on special tax district

bdickerson@thesunnews.comDecember 23, 2012 

— The residents of the Hidden Woods subdivision in Horry County aren’t happy with a special tax district that had overwhelming support when it wound up on a November 2011 ballot.

Their concern is based around the additional taxes they’re having to pay and an ordinance the County Council is one reading away from enacting that provides for the issuance and sale of $850,000 in general obligation bonds that will go toward road and drainage improvements in the community.

“I’m ready to turn my keys in to the mortgage company,” said Hidden Woods resident Winter Bottom while addressing the council at Tuesday’s meeting.

Bottom said her property taxes have increased $600 more per year since the special tax district was established on Feb. 29.

“This has been a real fiasco and I think we’ve been led down a road that’s curvy and windy and not to our advantage,” Bottom said.

The special tax district was put on the November 2011 ballot to help with road and drain repairs. There were 260 qualified voters making up the 150-home community in the Socastee area, said Councilman Gary Loftus, whose district includes Hidden Woods.

There were 104 votes cast, and 89 people were in favor of the tax district while 15 opposed, Loftus said.

But despite that vote, residents are still up in arms.

“To ask residents of the county to double their taxes, it’s just ludicrous this day in age,” said Hidden Woods homeowner Dave Moen on Friday.

Moen said his property taxes are $1,000 more this year than in 2011.

An issue Moen had – not to mention a few who spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting – was how renters living in Hidden Woods were allowed to vote in the special election. He questioned why the powers-that-be would allow those with no vested interest in the community to have a seat at the table.

Councilman Harold Worley also questioned the rationale of allowing renters to vote on the Hidden Woods special tax district. He called it unconstitutional.

“It slipped on me. Lord, it slipped on me,” Worley said Wednesday.

Tom Brown, president of the Hidden Woods Homeowners Association, said only registered voters living within the territorial boundaries of Hidden Woods proper were allowed to vote in the special election. That included renters.

Brown said he has records of who voted in the special election, but not how they cast their ballot. Not one renter, he added, came out to vote.

The millage rate tied into the special tax district is 84.6 mils and is based on the assessed value for each property owner, Brown said. So, a person living in a $290,000 home would pay more in taxes than someone living in a $170,000 home.

That latter amount is what Moen said his property is worth. Over the 15 years of the special tax district, he said he’ll pay an extra $15,000 he won’t recoup.

Brown wanted to stress the county treasurer combined the Hidden Woods special tax, the Socastee recreation tax and the Horry County recycling tax into one line item on the Hidden Woods residents’ bills. That maneuver, he said, is why some might think they’re paying more in taxes to help with road repair than they actually are.

He also anticipates the road repairs will be much less than anticipated.

“We don’t expect to borrow $850,000,” Brown said. He added there’s been a group trying to stamp out the special tax district for over a year, and argues that misrepresentations, half truths and even outright lies have been spread.

Brown said the bonds will help complete the job set forth by the Hidden Woods board of directors to bring the roads up to the standards needed for Horry County to take over management.

Still, that’s not of comfort to residents like Bottom.

“We don’t need $850,000 worth of roads,” she said.

Loftus plans to meet with Hidden Woods residents after the first of the year to talk about the tax district and the general obligation bonds. Brown said he expects that meeting to take place within the first three weeks of January. No time or location has yet been worked out.

As one of his final acts as Horry County Council chairman, Tom Rice oversaw the public review Tuesday night regarding the tax district. He stopped the residents at one point to say the matter regarding their roads has been on the agenda more than any other item during his two years on council.

“We’re at a very late date now. I’m just surprised to see this level of frustration,” Rice said.

Loftus said after the meeting council will do what the residents of Hidden Woods ultimately want regarding the tax district. He classified the negative reaction as “buyers’ remorse.”

“They want to do it, but once it got translated to real dollars, hmmm ... ‘do we want it that bad?;’ ” he said.

Contact reporter BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.

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