Horry County Council to vote on $373 million budget Friday

jrodriguez@thesunnews.comApril 10, 2014 

— Horry County Councilmen learned Thursday that property values are projected to remain about the same in its next budget, which, coupled with a reduction of 1 percent in each department, will help the county maintain services and offer a new litter cleanup program next year.

Councilmen heard from various department heads Thursday at the first day of its annual spring budget retreat, at the C.B. Berry Recreation Center at Vereen Gardens.

Rendel Mincey, Horry County assessor, told the council the real property assessed value for 2014/2015, which is a statewide reassessment year, will be about $1.79 billion – up from $1.78 billion in 2013/2014. Counties are required to reassess properties – or estimate property values – every five years. Tax rates are multiplied by assessed values of properties, so a decline in assessed values would have an impact on revenue to the county and possibly impact services provided by the county.

But that won’t happen this year, Mincey said.

“The projections presented [Thursday] represent the countywide impact of reassessment on assessed values,” Mincey said. “This estimate contains the projected impact of reassessment including the 15 percent cap and represents where we expect to be and includes projections for things that may occur throughout this year including special assessments, discounts and appeals. … The reassessment continues to be a work in progress review process.”

Final assessment figures will be determined before the budget is approved in June.

Just because the overall assessment is leveling out, however, does not mean that property owners will pay the same amount in taxes next year as this year. Some properties will increase in value and some will decrease, said Lisa Bourcier, spokeswoman for the county.

“Values have shifted throughout the county as a result of reassessment and that, along with the cap will impact individual properties differently,” Bourcier said. “The changes that have occurred during 2013 have allowed our base to remain as close as it is.”

The proposed $373 million overall budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1, includes a 2 percent cost of living increase for county employees and a 1 percent reduction for all departments.

The public safety division, which includes the court system, coroner’s office, police and fire, is budgeted for more than $76.1 million, which is down from $79.5 million budgeted for this year. The infrastructure and regulation division, which includes planning and zoning, public works and maintenance, is budgeted for $19.5 million.

The budget includes a projected $4.1 million in accommodations tax funds, which can be used for law enforcement, traffic control, highway maintenance and more. About $2.6 million of that is not already allocated, so County Administrator Chris Eldridge proposed using those funds for such things as beach patrol, beach cleanup, a new roadside litter program, beach renourishment and several other programs.

Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said accommodations tax funds are up about 5 percent from last year, which he said is a good sign more people are making their way to Horry County or are staying longer.

“Tourism has an effect on our general fund in that area,” Lazarus said. “It helps boost revenues that come back in.”

Also in the budget is $1.3 million for the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation and $1.05 million for Coast RTA, which had a portion of their funding withheld from the transit last year because the county had wanted more representation on Coast’s board.

As Coast made strides to change state law and get more county representation, the council eventually paid Coast in full. Coast was not talked about at Thursday’s retreat and is not on Friday’s agenda, which is the second and last day of the retreat.

Lazarus appointed a committee to examine recent programs at Coast RTA that opened the transit’s liability to refund grant money by up to $500,000. The committee is expected to report back to the full County Council by the second reading and public hearing for the budget, Lazarus said. That’s when the council is expected to talk about Coast RTA.

“We understand the funding,” Lazarus said of why Coast RTA is not scheduled to be talked about during the retreat. The reality of it is, is council comfortable giving that entity a million dollars with the concerns that we have at this point in time.”

Council is slated to vote on the first reading of the budget Friday, with two more votes and a public hearing before the end of June.

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.

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