Myrtle Beach council approves $156.7 million budget with 3 mill property tax increase, moves forward with plans for performing arts center

A $156.7 million operating budget for fiscal year 2014-2015 approved Tuesday by Myrtle Beach City Council includes a 3 mill increase in property taxes, money to move forward on building a performing arts center and $280,000 for the Grand Strand Humane Society.

City residents could see another 3 mill increase to their property taxes to be used to pay for additional law enforcement during May if a proposal by Councilman Wayne Gray gets approved through a budget amendment in August.

City Council approved a resolution 4-3 that gives supporters of the performing arts center the ability to update architectural plans for the facility that were completed in 2010. Councilmen Gray, Mike Lowder and Philip Render voted against the resolution, which expresses the city’s intent to repay itself the $200,000 it is expected to cost to update the plans through the $10 million in bonds that would be taken to pay for the construction of the facility.

“I feel it’s important that we move ahead with this project,” Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means said. “It’s something that the city voted on and expressed their approval. At this time, I think we need to move forward.”

Almost 54 percent of city voters in November supported a referendum that allows the city to purchase $10 million in bonds to build the 650-seat performing arts center that would connect with the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The referendum passed 1,915 to 1,641.

The 3 mill increase in property taxes approved with the budget Tuesday – raising the rate to 69.1 mills – will pay for 10 additional sworn police officers to patrol the oceanfront area and the south end of the city. Budget director Michael Shelton said the 3 mill increase will bring in an estimated $900,000 in revenue next fiscal year, which would pay salaries, benefits, equipment and training.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Gray proposed an additional 3 mill increase, but other council members said they felt increasing property taxes was a premature move.

“I propose an additional 3 mill tax increase dedicated to law enforcement needs associated with communitywide needs to deal with issues Memorial Day weekend,” Gray said.

Gray said the money would pay for the law enforcement that he said he thinks will help get control of the crime and violence that occurs in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend. Thousands of people travel to the Grand Strand that weekend to participate in Atlantic Beach Bikefest and Myrtle Beach’s Military Appreciation Days.

There were eight confirmed shootings in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend this year, leaving three dead and injuring seven others.

“We all want more law enforcement, and we’re working with the [S.C.] General Assembly to figure out how to do that, whether it be in-state, out-of-state or private security,” Gray said, saying that he hopes the state will change its law to allow certified law-enforcement officers to enforce laws in South Carolina. “But we need to have the money to pay for that. We know we’re going to incur more expenses next year, let’s go ahead and start paying for that.”

Local and state law enforcement professionals, as well as attorneys, are expected to work together in the coming months to develop a communitywide safety plan for next Memorial Day weekend, and Councilman Randal Wallace said he would feel more comfortable knowing the costs associated with putting the plan into action before raising taxes.

“I don’t want to do any kind of knee-jerk reaction or jump into anything without knowing what it’s going to cost,” he said.

Councilman Michael Chestnut also said he wanted to know a clear direction, and what the estimated costs would be, before making any decisions.

“I think we might need more than 3 mills,” he said.

Shelton said because the county is reassessing property values – which it does every five years -- the city likely will pass a budget amendment later this summer to adjust the base millage according to state law. It is possible for Gray to reintroduce the additional 3-mill increase at that time, when he said he hopes a clear security plan for next year is close to being finalized.

Any budget amendment needs to have a public hearing and pass two readings before it can become law.

Also included in the approved budget was a 2.8 percent increase in water and sewer rates, a $2.40 monthly increase in solid waste fees and a 2 percent raise for full-time city employees. The fiscal year begins July 1.