Myrtle Beach approved a budget Tuesday that will allow the city to hire five new police officers as part of a public safety initiative without raising property taxes.
The vote to enact a $190.6 million budget was unanimous. Other fees will increase for Myrtle Beach residents, however. Water and sewer fees will rise 2.5 to 2.8 percent for residential customers, a maximum of $14.76 annually, and solid waste pickup rates will rise $13.80 in a year for a residential customer as officials say they are passing on the cost of increased landfill use fees put in place by the Horry County Solid Waste Authority.
“It was absolutely a work of art for [chief financial officer] Mike [Shelton] and staff to come up with the budget we have today,” Councilman Mike Lowder said.
The total enacted budget is about a 2 percent increase from the total budget enacted the last fiscal year. Last year’s budget also included a 3 mill increase in property taxes, or an additional 0.003 percent of the taxable value of a home.
$1,469.88 The total estimated tax bill for a family with a $250,00 home and two cars valued at $28,000
This year’s funding plan comes after several weeks of discussion over how to pay for policing improvements but avoid a property tax increase.
Last month, city council passed an initial version of the budget that did include a tax hike as city staff worked to integrate a public safety package costing more than $1 million. That property tax hike would have cost about $14 on a $250,000 primary residence, similar to the increase in solid waste fees that has been enacted.
The public safety plan, which was presented by City Manager John Pedersen in the wake for a string of shootings in April, includes seven new positions, five of them sworn police officers. Another two crime analysts, who will help man the city’s system of surveillance cameras, were included in the budget before the policing package was introduced.
In voting for that package last month, elected officials urged city staff to find other sources of funding before Tuesday’s vote, which enacts a budget starting July 1. Lowder was absent for the prior vote, and Councilman Wayne Gray voted against it.
On Tuesday, Gray praised city staff for including the policing proposal and other increased costs without raising property taxes.
“It’s pretty impressive,” he said.
“It’s almost a miracle,” Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat added.
A combination of restructuring in the police department, anticipated increased state accommodations tax money for beach policing and different funding for two new police cars removed the tax increase before Tuesday’s final vote.
Interim Police Chief Amy Prock said Myrtle Beach Police are looking at how best to use its resources in order to cover the $100,000 in cost savings that the department has pledged for the new budget. She said more details on those savings, which might be achieved by changing some positions in the department, would come next week.
“We’re looking at how we can affect the overlay district the most,” she said, referring to the downtown area close to the ocean that has come under scrutiny after violence in April.
The budget also covers several increasing payroll costs for public employees, including an average 3 percent merit pay increase, an increased obligation to contribute to the statewide pension fund for public employees and a 7 percent increase in health insurance costs.
“[Staff] went much deeper into the budgets of each department than they had in the past,” said Pedersen, the city manager.