Horry County Council approves a new budget, but not without a final territorial battle

After months of work, Horry County has its new budget for the coming fiscal year. But it was accompanied by final disagreements about the Parks and Recreation Department.

The third and final reading of the budget was held Tuesday night, with council members voting 9-2 to approve. Harold Worley and Tyler Servant voted against.

Ahead of the final vote being taken, council member Al Allen asked staff how much the North Strand, South Strand and Carolina Forest recreation centers were costing the county to staff and operate. Interim Administrator Steve Gosnell said it was roughly $1.5 million each year.

Allen said this was creating a burden on the county, and he suggested council make an amendment to close the centers — located in the eastern part of the county — to free up money to build in the western part of Horry.

While he never formally made the motion, Allen said council needs to do more for its citizens in rural areas. He specifically called out the two council members with recreation centers in their districts who did not approve the budget.

“Why don’t we shut down those centers that cost $1.5 million and are crippling the county,” Allen said. “I signed on to help the people of Horry County, and it is shame for you to sit back and say ‘I’ve never voted for a tax increase, I’m a cookie-cutter politician.’”

Servant responded by saying he tried to get council to explore privatizing some or all of the parks to avoid more spending of public dollars, but he did not find much support at the time. Privatization is still on the table, but will probably not see any action taken until September.

The issue of building two additional recreation centers is not new. A previous council agreed Loris and Aynor needed recreation centers, council member Paul Prince said.

Chair Johnny Gardner, who represents all of Horry County, said the money was not available to build the new centers in this budget, but it is a top priority moving forward.

“This was something I was told prior council had promised would be done as soon as the money was made available. The money was not available right now, but it’s looking like it is going to be available soon,” he said. “I am all for looking at impact fees, the Georgetown model.”

Georgetown County uses an impact fee on new development to pay for its parks. In addition, council could hypothetically use some of the leftover Ride II funds to build these centers.

Either way, the increased budget for the parks department will allow the county to offer the services it does now without a tax increase in the park fund. Private industry will shoulder the financial burden with business license fees increasing in unincorporated Horry County.

While many of the spending increases are covered by raising fees, the budget does include an outright tax increase, mostly to cover pay raises for uniformed public safety employees.

The amount of money collected through the general fund and fire fund millage were expanded by council at a previous meeting. How this will affect taxpayers differs, depending on where they live and the value of their property.

According to a presentation from Horry County staff at the second reading, the tax increases would cost a county resident with a $200,000 property an additional $11.40 compared to last year’s bill.

The vehicle tax on a $20,000 car will increase by $2.28 for county residents.

Folks living inside a municipality will see a slightly smaller increase in what they pay due to only unincorporated residents paying into the fire fund.

A break down of how the approved tax increase will affect residents, which a part of presentation to Horry County Council on May 21.

While the budget could still be amended during the reading of the minutes at the next council meeting, the process is mostly finished following the third reading.

When council started the budget negotiations in November, it had a different chairman, administrator and assistant administrator. Despite the challenges, Gardner said, he was proud of all the hard work staff did to get the budget together. He said county employees earned the raises they received in this budget.

“It feels good, everybody worked hard,” he said. “We were able to give the Horry County employees a much-needed raise.”

Development and Horry County reporter Tyler Fleming joined The Sun News in May of 2018. He covers other stuff too, like reporting on beer, bears, breaking news and Coastal Carolina University. He graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018 and was the 2017-18 editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. He has won (and lost) several college journalism awards.