Myrtle Beach City Manager John Pedersen presented a wide-ranging proposal Tuesday to help secure the area around Ocean Boulevard after a string of shootings in April.
But Pedersen’s suggestion, which would create a tax increase of 1.4 mills in the coming budget, could prove politically difficult for members of city council.
“I am concerned about raising taxes on the entire city to take care of issues in one particular area,” said Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat. “Even though it’s an important area.”
The proposal would cost a total of $1.07 million, and would include five new police officer positions in the first year, three new vehicles, two new code enforcement officers, $150,000 to contract with other law enforcement jurisdictions to use their officers and a mobile command center.
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The whole package uses federal drug forfeiture money, capital projects funding and money from the city’s general fund to cover the new costs. But about $471,000 would have to be covered with a property tax increase.
City council did not take a formal vote on the measure Tuesday, but Pedersen said he plans to present it as a change to the budget. The budget proposal he presented in March did not include a tax increase, but did have small increases in water and sewer fees.
Some council members reached by The Sun News were hesitant about imposing the property tax increase.
“I believe [with] a healthy scrutinization of our present budget, we can find the money within the budget,” Councilman Phil Render said Wednesday.
Councilman Randal Wallace said the city has time to see if some fixes it has already made to send more officers to the boulevard will work before passing an adjusted budget. The budget must be enacted by July 1.
“I would love to not have to do the increase, but if we have to, we need to make sure we have the police presence to have that visibility that we needed down there,” he said.
Jeffcoat has been a proponent of a municipal improvement district in the area, or a special taxation zone levied on just the area downtown. City Attorney Tom Ellenburg said Tuesday that he would begin work on drawing up a MID, but that a proposal would likely not come before council and the public before the fall, meaning it would not be a solution that could be implemented before crowds swell this summer.
Jan Connell, director of the Oceanfront Merchants Association, said that Tuesday’s discussions on policing and a possible MID were a “first step.”
“We haven’t had a chance to discuss it as a group yet,” Connell said of the downtown shop owners. “Of course, no one likes to pay more money, but there’s a cost associated and we realize that.”
If Pedersen’s proposal were to pass as presented Tuesday, it would mean as many as 22 officers on Ocean Boulevard on weekend nights in the tourist season, through a combination of police overtime, officers from other agencies and officers moved out of administrative positions and onto the streets.
Completely new police officers, however, often have to go through significant training before they can begin work. Delays at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy and scarce applicants can make police positions difficult to fill.
The proposal also included other measures, including a business watch program to help merchants work with police, stricter code enforcement and lighting to brighten up some areas downtown that may appear threatening at night.
“I think it will make a huge difference … it also will enhance the cameras we have in those areas,” Councilman Mike Lowder said of the lighting.