Nobody likes to hear the words tax increase. Like a fist flying at our face, the instinctual reaction is to duck or throw up our hands in defense. But we also pay strict attention when our fire safety officials say that they need more resources to keep us safe, as has happened across the county recently.
New Surfside Beach Fire Chief Dan Cimini said he came into the job and found mismatched gear that presented safety issues to his staff and volunteers. He’s asking Town Council for a $42,000 increase in his budget.
New Horry County Fire Rescue Chief Fred Crosby said if the county doesn’t act, his department will be forced to cut 18 firefighters next year, local ISO ratings that determine insurance rates could go up, and aging equipment will only continue to get older. The situation is getting serious after years of no increase or minor increases in the millage. For example, he told the council that a third of the department’s pumper trucks “will qualify for antique license plates in this state in two years.” He’s asking County Council to approve a 3.5 mill increase in property taxes, about $7.5 million total.
And Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District Chairman Al Hitchcock is looking for money to operate a fourth fire station that the district hopes to build. He’s got the support of most of the area residents, and is asking the legislators who oversee the entity for an increase in the millage the district is allowed to collect.
Those hopes have at least partly soured after the response of Rep. Stephen Goldfinch of Murrells Inlet. Goldfinch, who signed a pledge as a candidate not to raise taxes, told the Pawleys Island Coastal Observer that he checked with Americans for Tax Reform and they told him voting for this increase would violate that pledge. Setting aside the absurdity of asking a national D.C.-based organization for permission to make a local decision, it’s unfortunate that Goldfinch, who has shown himself to be a go-getter in his short time in the legislature, would allow such a pledge to tie his hands and take away his personal reasoning.
Goldfinch’s predicament, however, is symptomatic of the problem that all these leaders will face: how to justify raising taxes to an often incredulous population. Our leaders face some tough choices ahead as they decide how our communities will be protected in the years to come. We’re not experts on the budgets of the local fire departments, and we can’t say for sure whether all of the increases are justified. We do generally trust our public safety leaders, however, and we believe them when they present their needs. The instinct for most politicians when it comes to tax increases is to run the other way. We hope in these cases our leaders will at least give them the thoughtful consideration they deserve.