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Fee hikes for residents possible in new county budget

Horry County council.
Horry County council. jlee@thesunnews.com

All Horry County employees will receive a merit-based pay raise averaging around 3 percent under this year's proposed $171 million general fund budget, which passed first reading Friday.

Firefighters and police will receive even bigger raises.

What's not yet included is an increase in stormwater fees or impact fees on stormwater. Council Chair Mark Lazarus directed staff to bring back some proposals for how to deal with the utility, which has millions of dollars in unfunded work that needs to be done.

The budget will have to pass three readings before it becomes law. The only "no" vote against the first draft of the budget was Tyler Servant, who said he's in favor of raises for police and fire, but was against the community benefit fund that gives county councilors $240,000 to spend at their own discretion.

Police and fire raises:

Along with all other county employees, Horry County police officers and firefighters will receive merit-based pay raises this year averaging about 3 percent under the new budget.

But the raises don't stop there.

For police, the new budget includes a $1 per hour raise for Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3 police officers. This raises the salary for certified officers from $38,584 including base pay and holiday pay to $42,137, according to county spokesperson Kelly Moore.

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The county freed up more than $1 million in general fund money that was previously sent to Coast RTA by allocating $6.50 from the road fee and using that to fund the transit system.

"We were able to get creative," Lazarus said. "We were able to put Coast RTA on stable financing ground."

Myrtle Beach police earn a starting salary of $44,000, and the raise is an effort to attract more officers and compete with the beach police.

"By raising the salaries, hopefully we’ll have better retention, we’ll be able to hire more, we’ll fill the vacancies and the next year we’ll be able to hire more personnel," Lazarus said.

Horry County firefighter EMTs and firefighter paramedics also get a 3 percent raise on top of their merit-based raise, for an average pay increase of 6 percent.

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Without the pay raise, Horry County firefighters earn $34,456 to $51,686 for both firefighter EMTS and firefighter paramedics, according to Moore.

In Myrtle Beach, the minimum salary starts at $38,640 for just firefighters, according to a pay schedule. Firefighter paramedics in Myrtle Beach make at least $43,922 and can earn up to $68,319.

"I’m most happy that we were able to accomplish the raises in public safety and fire and EMS without having to raise millage," Lazarus said."

Stormwater

While the new budget doesn't include any tax increase, residents rooting against any fee increases aren't out of the woods yet.

Horry County's Stormwater Management department has a budget of almost $5 million, and loads of of unfunded work that needs to be done, including more than $2.4 million in unfunded capital projects and studies.

Department head Tom Garigen recommended raising the stormwater fee from $29.30 to $39.40 per year to keep up with increased work. The fee hasn't been raised since it was implemented in 2000.

According to a county presentation, Charleston County's stormwater fee is $36, Georgetown County's fee is $51.60 and Myrtle Beach's is $63.

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Lazarus instructed staff to bring back proposals to increase stormwater revenue either by raising the stormwater fee or imposing a local impact fee for stormwater.

State law doesn't allow impact fees on development to be used outside of that development, but councilor Harold Worley said Thursday that the state will allow impact fees on utilities, and the county considers stormwater a utility.

"County staff interprets stormwater to be a utility, therefore we should be able to assess an impact fee on stormwater," Worley said Thursday. "It would just be on new development."

On Friday, Worely said he would like to see an impact fee rather than a rate increase for existing residents.

"I’d rather see an impact fee on new development rather than raise millage of existing property owners," he said.

Councilor Johnny Vaught said he would like to see a combination of impact fees on stormwater and an increase in the stormwater rate.

"You heard [Assistant County Administrator Steve] Gosnell say that if we don’t do something to fix it we’re going to have to cut back services in July," Vaught said. "Some kind of combination of the two I think is what it’s going to take. If we just go $10, which is what was recommended, that’s going to be a band aid approach.

"We need to, as Mr. Worley said, explore using impact fees on it," Vaught said. "That way you let growth pay for itself rather than people who are here who, a lot of them don’t even want more growth, having to take the burden off of growth."



Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian
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