The Horry County Council still has a big decision to make; increase taxes to find fire rescue, or lose almost 30 positions and its current ISO rating.
That decision was not made during Tuesday night’s workshop to discuss the fire fund.
Instead, the 11-person council left with more food for thought.
“This isn’t something that is to be taken lightly,” said Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.
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What Horry County Fire Chief Fred Crosby is asking for is a 3.5 millage property tax increase to fund fire rescue to the tune of $3.5 million more annually. Crosby says that will ensure staffing remains intact and money is available to replace aging equipment.
Residents in unincorporated areas like Carolina Forest have said they're fine with the additional taxes if it helps to keep their area safe. A fire ravished the Windsor Green development of Carolina Forest March 16, destroying 26 condominium buildings and leaving almost 200 people homeless.
Crosby told council if there is no additional funding mechanism put in place in the upcoming fiscal year 2014 budget, which takes effect July 1, the fire service will have to shed 28 positions.
Eighteen of those, Crosby said, are positions currently funded through a federal grant that’s set to expire.
Additionally, the fire service would close four career stations and three volunteer stations, Crosby said.
Crosby also stressed the do-nothing approach would adversely affect the county’s ISO rating, perhaps raising it from a 5 to a 10.
Estimates official gave were that homeowners’ insurance could increase by a few thousand dollars if their ISO rating does go to a 10.
The 3.5 mills fire officials want equates to $14 for every $100,000 of a homeowner’s assessed property.
Councilman Harold Worley, however, calls the millage increase a band-aid and said the council should look within its budget to find a permanent solution.
"I don’t think 3.5 mills is going to get you and this department where it needs to be," Worley told Crosby Tuesday night.
Councilman Carl Schwartzkopf closed the meeting by asking what someone would rather pay; $50 more in taxes, or $4,000 or $5,000 more in insurance.
"Anyone who failed third-grade arithmetic … can find the answer to that question,” he said.
The second reading of the budget is expected to be on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting.