There won’t be a tax increase in Surfside Beach this year, Councilman Rod Smith said in answer to a resident Tuesday.
Town Administrator Micki Fellner told Town Council two weeks ago a tax increase would be the most logical way to increase revenue for the town, which currently has no undesignated money reserved in the budget for an emergency or storm.
Surfside and other councils around the area are approaching the July 1 deadline for determining their 2013-14 budgets. In 2012, Surfside Beach had the second lowest tax rate of all municipalities in Horry County at 40 mills. Only North Myrtle Beach had a lower rate at 38 mills.
Surfside Beach could increase taxes by as much as 9.9 percent or 3.96 mills, Fellner said, which would be $16 per $100,000 of house value.
“Anybody that thinks about raising taxes should have their head examined,” said resident Tom Dodge.
Resident Sandra Elliot disagreed.
“I guess I need my head examined because we’re in a financial mess and we’re not going to get out of it by nickel and diming our budget,” Elliot said. “...you keep picking and picking at the bone. We’re in it together. If we go under, our bond rating goes down, our home values go down and I don’t want to lose value on my house.”
The draft budget, which is up for first reading next week, does not include any funds for stormwater. A 5-mill stormwater allocation expires with the current budget at the end of this month.
Smith made a successful motion to designate one mill of the current 40 mill rate to pay for stormwater needs. Finance director Diana King estimated the one mill would add up to about $60,000.
Councilwoman Mary Beth Mabry is the only council member to voice support of a tax increase, saying the town can’t operate on its current 40 mills.
“I feel strongly that the financial health of the town is our No. 1 priority,” she said. “The last four years we’ve been at 40 mills and we’ve been dropping in the hole for the last four years, so clearly this is not working.”
She said the low tax rate isn’t sustainable and isn’t sure where any more cuts can be made from next year’s budget. She’s also not sure if it will mean a reduction in services offered in the town.
“I can’t tell you,” she said. “I don’t see anything positive. I certainly don’t see anything in our fund balance if we have a hurricane, or if we have an opportunity to do a matching grant we cant do a matching grant. If we have a hiccup in our budget we’re just out of luck.”
Security cameras on tap
Security cameras in Surfside Beach are a step closer to reality and will be discussed further by a committee Wednesday.
Surfside Beach Police Chief Rodney Keziah initially approached Town Council during the April budget retreat about installing video cameras, but funds weren’t set aside then because a resident approached the town about a donation for the cameras.
Fellner explained that the donation didn’t work out because the donation was of cameras, not funds, and the equipment would not be compatible.
Instead, the five cameras – the minimum amount required – could be purchased this year through accommodations tax funds received May 2013 at an estimated $18,875. The accommodations tax committee meets Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in Town Council chambers. If the committee gives approval, the purchase must still be approved by Town Council. A bid process would follow.
Keziah said the proposed spots for the cameras are in the Surfside Beach Pier parking lot, on top of the pier, beach access parking lots at 4th Avenue South and 3rd Avenue North and one in the business district on Surfside Drive.
Councilwoman Beth Kohlmann said Tuesday she supports the cameras.
“They’re highly successful crime fighting tools,” she said. “With your ability to see things live, it’ a huge safety thing for responding police officers. I know people say they don’t want Big Brother watching, but [cameras] solve crimes.”
The cameras would be monitored by dispatch in Surfside Beach and have pan, zoom and tilt capabilities. Additionally, the video would be automatically recorded and stored for a minium of 30 days.
Businesses in town that choose to purchase cameras and contract with the company could give the police department access to their video footage. Keziah said that doesn’t mean officers will monitor their cameras, but it would allow police easy access to the recordings in the event of a crime.