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Horry County Council approves property tax increase

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After a little more than an hour-and-a half-debate, Horry County Council approved a property tax increase of 7.2 mills at its meeting Tuesday, which will raise about $13.5 million for mostly law enforcement and allow the county to not reach into its reserves.

Council voted 6-5 to approve the tax increase. Councilmen Paul Prince, Harold Worley, Tyler Servant, Marion Foxworth and Jody Prince voted against the increase, which also was a vote to increase the road maintenance fee from $30 annually to $50.

Chuck Canterbury, president of the national Fraternal Order of Police, commended the council for the tax increase. Canterbury was critical of the county in March for not having adequate police staffing and not having funding in line with other police departments.

“I want to applaud this council for taking a stand … ,” Canterbury said. “I came before you earlier this year and talked to you about the inequities in law enforcement and public safety in general in this county. You took action, Mr. Chairman, and I appreciate that.”

Horry County Councilmen approved a 7.2-mill increase that will allow them to balance next year’s budget without reserves and provide additional law enforcement staff, county employee raises and public safety equipment.

The increase will raise about $13.5 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 increase is the maximum allowed this year for Horry County by a state cap.

It means 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 increase will 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 the police department with digital storage for the cameras. The increase will 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.

Consensus of council was a struggle to reach Tuesday. Councilman Gary Loftus proposed a smaller increase in millage, which was voted down by a vote of 6-5. Then council voted not to eliminate the proposed road maintenance fee increase from $30 to $50.

About 10 members of the public addressed the council, bringing ideas of cutting staff members at libraries and the museum, not building anymore boat landings, and not voting on the increase because residents in District 6 do not have a representative on council.

Reese Boyd, a resident of Murrells Inlet, said he thinks more cuts could have been made.

“I know you guys work hard and this in nothing personal, but I don’t think council has looked hard enough,” Boyd said.

Chairman Mark Lazarus said something needed to be done this year because expenses have been outpacing revenues by 2-to-1. He said after the meeting he was pleased with the result of the vote.

“It’s relief,” Lazarus said. “At the same time, everybody had a great point tonight. A lot of the members of the public didn’t really understand a lot of it, that a lot of it is restricted funds that we just simply can’t use. I hope I was able to express a lot of that and answer all of those questions for them. Are they all going to be happy? No, absolutely not. But at some point, we had to stop what we were doing and that was reaching into a fund balance and basically breaking the county.”

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

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