Horry County Council covets public safety hires in 2013

The spring budget cycle is still several months away, but there’s a projected $1.9 million – the bulk of which comes from accommodations tax money – that Horry County Council can use at its discretion to help fund a few wish list items.

For some on County Council, the best place they see that money going is to public safety. It’s that entity that makes up the largest chunk of the county’s budget every fiscal year, generally more than $80 million.

It’s also the entity at least one council member feels is well behind the power curve of officers per capita, and needs to look at putting more boots on the street in unincorporated portions as densely populated as Myrtle Beach, such as Carolina Forest.

“I just don’t want to see us move backwards at all,” said Councilman Bob Grabowski.

Grabowski is optimistic the council can get more officers on the road. He’d like to see 20 hired, but would settle for 10.

“I think 20 is really ambitious,” Grabowski said.

Councilman Harold Worley, who chairs the county’s administration committee, said he would recommend hiring six additional police officers as well as six more career firefighters and pieces of equipment that Horry County Fire Rescue needs, such as new engines.

“We do want to stay in that million nine,” Worley said.

That $1.9 million is the most discretionary money the County Council has had to play with in several years. Worley said the last time they had additional revenue like that was in 2006, and it was over $1 million.

Although his recommendation is to put that $1.9 million toward more public safety officers, Worley said it’s just that – a recommendation.

“I certainly like to listen to the debate,” he said.

Assuming new officers are hired, it would be the second year in a row Horry County Council has approved funding those new positions.

The 2013 fiscal year budget passed with $357,000 dedicated to hiring six new police officers. Four of them were dedicated to patrolling the burgeoning Carolina Forest area.

In the years between the 2000 and 2010 census, Carolina Forest’s population skyrocketed from roughly 3,400 to over 20,000. That growth was both good and bad.

“Carolina Forest has been hit hard. The crime’s bad,” Councilman Brent Schulz has said.

At one point, the police department’s staffing allowed for the solving of major crimes like murder and sexual assault, but officers could only be call responsive to small crimes like theft, which affect the majority of Carolina Forest residents, Chief Saundra Rhodes has said.

Rhodes said Friday she hasn’t made any budget considerations or requests yet to County Council and didn’t want to speculate on what she might need until she knows what’s available.

“We’re a little bit too early right now,” Rhodes said.

Paul Whitten, director of public safety, said the budget process has started at the staff level and it’s further down the road before they start asking for money for additional officers or resources.

“The key is to make sure we’re utilizing the dollars that have been allocated to us effectively,” he said.

Grabowski had one other suggestion for how the additional $1.9 million could be spent – speed bumps.

He’d like to keep $50,000 on hand to buy speed bumps that generally cost between $1,500 and $2,000 each. Grabowski said he’s had requests for some in the Palmetto Pointe Boulevard area.

“Speed humps are good because they’re like a 24/7 cop,” he said.