Horry County to consider tax increase to raise $13M

Horry County investigators work a scene in this file photo taken in Conway on Thursday, March. 26, 2015. Photo by Janet Blackmon Morgan / jblackmon@thesunnews.com
Horry County investigators work a scene in this file photo taken in Conway on Thursday, March. 26, 2015. Photo by Janet Blackmon Morgan / jblackmon@thesunnews.com jblackmon@thesunnews.com

Horry County Councilmen are mulling a tax increase that would allow them to balance next year’s budget without reserves and provide additional law enforcement staff, county employee raises and public safety equipment.

The proposed increase would raise more than $13 million for the county and provide enough money to prevent it from reaching for $8 million in its reserves to balance the 2016 budget.

The 7.2-mill increase is not a shoo-in, however. Some councilmen said at a budget workshop Wednesday that they flat-out would not support property tax increases and others wanted to examine the budget requests versus the request to see if it could be reduced. Council will meet again on the budget at another workshop Tuesday at 4 p.m. in council chambers.

If council were to approve the complete 7.2 mills, which is the maximum allowed this year for Horry County by a state cap, it would mean a $28.80 increase in property taxes annually for the owner of a home with an appraised value of $100,000. Those with homestead exemption on the same valued home would pay $14.40 more than their current county tax bill, and those with rental properties would pay an additional $43.20 on a $100,000 home. Businesses with an appraised property value of $100,000 would pay an additional $75.60 annually.

The 7.2 mill increase would help the county avoid reaching into its reserves to balance the 2016 fiscal year budget, which begins July 1. It would also generate money for public safety projects like adding two court security officers, four violent crime detectives, three gang unit detectives, purchasing body cameras and providing digital storage for the cameras for the police department.

The increase would also provide two prosecutors for the solicitor’s office, 3 percent pay increases for county employees and 5 percent for Class 1 police officers, provide new stretchers for the ambulance service, provide a needed police radar and help address call volume issues that the emergency management system has been experiencing.

Council Chairman Mark Lazarus came up with the proposal to raise millage for the county’s needs with County Administrator Chris Eldridge and senior county staff.

“What we need [Wednesday] is get a consensus of what you’re willing to do so they can go back and build a budget,” Lazarus said.

Councilman Johnny Vaught said he supported the measure as long as it went to exactly what the plan calls for.

“I’m for a 7.2 mill increase provided we tie it to our public service employees like we talked about,” Vaught said. “I want to see it tied and shown to the public that it’s going to our public service employees, increasing their pay and that it’s increasing our personnel and that the public could see a benefit to it.”

Councilman Gary Loftus wouldn’t hop on board with the 7.2-mill proposal until he had a chance to look at everything further.

“On 7.2, I’m probably going to be a ‘no’ until I look at this thing and vet the thing to find out what’s here,” Loftus said. “I might do six, or five, or 6.5 [mills].”

There wasn’t much that could be done to change Councilman Harold Worley’s mind on his stance against the millage increase.

“What is a job worth?” Worley said of the proposed raises. “Look at the people of Horry County making these kinds of payments. They’re not making that kind of money. You just gave the administrator a big raise, and you want to give everybody a big raise. What about everybody else in the county? They’re not getting big raises. My employees haven’t had a raise in 10 years. I haven’t raised the rates at the hotel in 10 years. Why? The economy.”

Councilman Al Allen said it’s a matter of the quality of services the council wants to provide residents.

“This is what I’m hearing from our citizens across the county,” Allen said. “They don’t mind paying for public safety services as long as they’re getting public safety services … We’re tying our chief’s and our chair’s hands here if we can’t supply them with what they need … Do we want to provide our citizens with a kid’s meal or an adult meal? When you go to a hardware store or a restaurant, you pay for what you get.”

Which is something that resonated with Councilman Marion Foxworth, but he wasn’t sure if asking for 7.2 mills was too much.

“We do need to look at the bigger picture and we do need to pay for what we get,” Foxworth said. “I could possibly go with a slight millage increase. I can’t go with a 7.2 increase.”

The council will also consider fee increases Tuesday, which includes a road maintenance fee increase to pay for repairing county roads. All drivers currently pay $30 annually when registering their vehicle, and the proposal is to increase that fee to $50, which Foxworth also didn’t agree with.

“You’re taxing people who won’t be getting a big portion of the service,” Foxworth said. “Most cars are in the eastern part of the county where there are no dirt roads and the comprehensive road plan is funded with this road maintenance fee and a large part of it pays for those roads.”

Lazarus said council will have the second reading and public hearing of the budget, which allows the public to comment if they call ahead to the county clerk, at 6 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers.

“Right now, timing-wise, we got a budget that we need to approve by July 1, and this is what’s before us,” Lazarus said. “With that being said … I’m going to ask [County Administrator Chris Eldridge] to bring forth a budget … that shows a 7.2 mill increase. This council will have the opportunity to, if they don’t want to do a full 7.2 mill increase, we could start going through these and pulling them out and say we don’t want to do these or we will change the way that we’re adding pay increases at that time.”

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.

By the Numbers

The proposed millage increase would raise $13.5 million and would allow Horry County to afford the following:

▪ Fill a $8 million shortfall in its 2016 budget

▪ Two court security officers

▪ Two staff attorneys for solicitor

▪ Address EMS call volume

▪ Four detectives for violent crimes

▪ Three detectives for gang unit

▪ Pay increases (3 percent for county employees; 5 percent for Class 1 officers)

▪ Public safety body cameras and digital storage

▪ Police radar

▪ New stretchers