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Horry County Schools considering tax increase to fund building, renovation projects

Myrtle Beach High School students head for the buses as the school day ends.
Myrtle Beach High School students head for the buses as the school day ends. jbell@thesunnews.com

Some Horry County School board members are starting to speak in favor of a tax increase as available funding continues to fall short of expected expenses.

Most board members were present Monday for a joint meeting between the facilities and finance committees, and the meeting centered on options for funding the district’s five-year capital plan.

The plan includes new and replacement schools, renovations, maintenance and upkeep across all of the district facilities at a total cost of more than $754 million, according to previous Sun News reports.

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Board member and finance committee chairman John Poston noted that the committees have been discussing funding options for about a year, but no action has been taken.

John Gardner, the district’s chief financial officer, showed committee members funding projections looking at different millage rates through 2024, which is when the penny sales tax is set to expire.

At each millage rate, Gardner showed funding available under a “pay as we go” option, which involves the district solely using tax revenue without borrowing; borrowing up to 8 percent of its debt capacity; or asking voters to approve a bond referendum, which would be between $125 million-$250 million based on the millage rate.

Gardner noted that the board can vote to raise the millage rate, currently at 10 mills, or borrow up to 8 percent of its debt capacity without asking voters, per state law.

Gardner’s projections looked at keeping 10 mills or raising the rate to 12 or 14 mills. One mill is equal to $4 per $100,000 assessed value of a home, so the current 10 mills is equal to $40 per $100,000 assessed value.

Each mill brings in about $2.2 million to the district, Gardner said.

After Gardner’s presentation, Poston urged fellow committee members to consider whether the district can limit its spending before deciding whether to favor a millage increase, borrowing or combination of the two.

Board member Janice Morreale was the first to speak in favor of a combination of raising the millage rate and borrowing, asserting that the needs of the district are greater than the money available.

Fellow board member Chris Hardwick agreed that a millage increase was needed, but he was not in favor of borrowing against the district’s debt capacity.

Board members Ray Winters and Holly Heniford both spoke against a millage rate increase unless they could get approval from voters.

Heniford told The Sun News after the meeting that she’s not satisfied with the total budget for the district’s five-year capital plan, and she believes the numbers may be inflated. She wants to see a more detailed breakdown of projected costs before she’ll consider raising taxes, she said.

Board member Sherrie Todd added that the committees need to take into consideration the current condition of Horry County following Hurricane Florence before adding an additional financial burden on residents.

Committee members also discussed the impact that raising taxes could have on voters’ willingness to reauthorize the penny sales tax also known as the education capital sales tax.

Horry County Schools was imposing a tax rate of 28 mills prior to the approval of the penny sales tax, and Poston said board members should expect members of the community to remind them that they were promised a millage rate decrease in exchange for approving the tax.

The sales tax will be placed on the ballot for renewal in November 2022, and Gardner noted that the board will need to increase the millage rate if they receive permission for a bond referendum but the sales tax is not renewed.

David Weissman: @WeissmanMBO; 843-626-0305

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