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How U.S. Justice Department grant may help Myrtle Beach fund new police officers

The City of Myrtle Beach is working to expand its police force, and a grant from the United Stated Department of Justice may help.

The U.S. Department of Justice granted the city $1,250,000 over a period of three years, “for the hiring of 10 additional police officers in a cooperative program between the city and DOJ to enhance community police,” the motion states.

This means that over three years the City of Myrtle Beach will have enough funds to pay the salaries of 10 officers.

“The Department of Justice makes money available every year to help local law enforcement agencies to hire additional police officers,” City Manager John Pedersen said. “It can’t be used to cover the costs of officers that you already have, so it has to be for new folks. We are very pleased they decided to cover 10.

“In the context of what’s going on nationally, there was $98 million in round terms that was approved nationally, and of that $1,250,000 for us is a large amount of the total.”

The city will have to match the grant for the three-year period with the amount of $770,079.

In October, Prock presented a plan that would hire 70 new officers over the course of seven years to various departments within the force. As the numbers stand now, the department needs to hire 19 officers each year just to break even.

In order to break even and add new “boots on the ground,” the department needs to put 32 people through the academy each year.

On top of that, city council voted to give police officers raises, which began the first pay period of this year.

The plan implemented an automatic 1.75-percent market increase for all sworn officers and dispatchers, plus a 3-percent merit increase and a market rate salary adjustment of 5 percent, which began Jan. 12.

However, when the plan originally was presented in December, it called for a tax increase on city residents, which would mean a 3.8-percent increase on the city tax bill, Pedersen said.

“We have stretched our budget in a number of different ways,” Pedersen said during a city council meeting in January. “I am bringing to you a budget with this millage increase built into it.”

In November, the Community Oriented Policing Services awarded the Myrtle Beach Police Department $1.25 million to hire 10 new officers, but the city still needs more money.

Currently, council members are working on finding alternatives for funding the police plan without having to raise taxes.

Early in February, Prock, Pedersen and Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune met with South Carolina legislatures where they discussed A-tax funding, which is currently used for marketing.

“Specifically, we were asking to reword the A-tax law where they have given us permission to use some of the A-tax dollars for law enforcement during the month of May, and what we’re asking them to do is to lift that proviso, which would allow us to use that same amount of funds, but spread out for other key events and times when we need law enforcement,” Bethune said.

“Ultimately, it will not cost the state any more dollars, and it will not result in any monies that would have been used for advertising changing at all.”

Currently, A-tax funds are used for marketing by the Myrtle Beach area Chamber of Commerce. Bethune said they also asked the governor of North Carolina to lift a restriction that prohibits officers from North Carolina from coming into South Carolina to help for certain events.

“We can send our law enforcement officers into North Carolina,” Bethune said. “We’re asking their governor to lift that restriction because the majority of our crimes are committed from people in North Carolina and we feel that it would result in better partnership in helping them identify some of their criminals or things that are here to get them back there and get them off the streets.”

Megan Tomasic: 843-626-0343, @MeganTomasic

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