Horry County government agencies have new goals for next year, including reductions in certain crimes, faster fire engine response times, improving community relations with police, and stormwater system maintenance to prevent street flooding.
These and other goals were approved Thursday during the Horry County Council’s fall budget retreat, where officials also debated how to cover an expected $1 million shortfall in the next fiscal year budget to fund the Parks and Recreation Department.
The cost to keep 30 full-time employees and 94 part-time employees is nearly $2.5 million and operations in the current year is funded for nearly $2.8 million.
Reducing the number of employees would result in less services, fewer hours and program offerings, said Brent Taylor, who heads the department.
In addition, the department needs funding to replace fences, courts and shelters, add playground equipment, security lighting for walking paths, and provide irrigation and athletic turf to some of the 33 parks and 28 boat landings it manages. An additional $6 million is needed for lighting at athletic fields, Taylor said.
To fund parks at the current level, the county would have to raise millage fees or increase user fees.
“That’s something you as a council will have to think about, because we are going to be voting on something to stabilize this fund,” said Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman.
To avoid raising both, Lazarus asked county staff to determine whether millage that was once transferred from parks and recreation to the general fund to pay for debt services can be recouped.
“That could be a good salvation,” Lazarus said.
Based on a citizen survey taken last year of 3,000 county residents, agencies identified services that needed improvement, particularly in public safety.
One of the new goals is to improve the overall feeling of safety among residents, 48 percent of whom responded that they feel safe in the community.
One of the ways to improve that is by increasing the visibility of officers and more positive interactions with officers, and change the narrative of how the police are viewed by citizens, said Tim Van Pelt, county management analyst.
The police department will be working to improve crime prevention efforts, especially in the number of car break-ins throughout the county, particularly in Carolina Forest.
The department will also focus on reducing domestic violence crimes, and redistribute victim advocates from one central location in Conway to precincts throughout the county.
One of the ways in which the agency will determine its effectiveness, is by monitoring the number of positive stories written about the police department as well as the comments posted by the public on those articles, Van Pelt said in his presentation.
The police department also plans to increase its social media presence, improve relationships with the local media, and hold community events with the public.
In the Horry County Fire Rescue Department, first responders have set a response time of five minutes for 90 percent of all calls for the first engine, and less than 10 minutes for further responding vehicles.
To reduce flooding incidents and increase stormwater capacity, the county will inspect and clean all of is subdivision drainage systems every two years, Van Pelt said.
Barry Spivey, county finance director, reported that continued growth will boost county coffers in numerous areas, including fees for cable television which is expected to bring in nearly $4 million during this fiscal year.
The county will make an estimated $9.2 million from EMS operations, an increase from $8 million last year that is credited to a new collection system for delinquent payments.
A slight increase is expected in vehicle taxes collected during this fiscal year, $7.6 million over last year’s $7.1 million. Property taxes are also expected to produce nearly $77 million this year, more than $74 million the previous year.
The fall budget retreat is used by council members to begin examining goals and capital improvement project requests that will come up for approval in the next budget finalized in July.
Capital projects under discussion over the next few months includes $650,000 to purchase new software for the Register of Deeds office to move from the outdated microfiche system; $600,000 to purchase a building to house a health clinic for county employees; $535,000 to purchase land in Carolina Forest for recreation; $500,000 for a fire department warehouse and $100,000 to build a firing range.