Grand Strand's millage rates face changes; Reassessment forces tax redo

All over the Myrtle Beach area, local governments are discussing what to do now that the reassessment numbers are in.

And it isn't the same discussion everywhere.

In Horry County local governments are lowering millage, but in Georgetown County property values have gone down, meaning millage rates will increase.

Georgetown County Council and the city of Georgetown plan public hearings next week to hear from the public about the increase and to try to explain why it is happening.

Much of the reasoning behind the increases and decreases stems from a 2006 change in state law.

The law says the revenue collected by a local government cannot exceed the previous year's revenue by more than the Consumer Price Index and the percentage growth in population.

That leads to places such as Horry County, where property rates have increased, lowering their millage rate to make sure their revenue is not too much more than the previous year.

The town of Surfside Beach, for example, lowered its millage by 4, from 44 mills to 40 mills, to keep its budget around $9million.

But the required decrease in millage can mean localgovernments have less money than they had the previous year.

The city of Myrtle Beach, for example, lowered its millage by 6.1, from 64.4 to 58.3. But that loss of 6.1 mills would have meant an estimated $50,000 shortfall for the city.

The council voted earlier this week to add 0.5 mills back so its revenue would equal the budgeted amount, without exceeding the legal limit for increase.

In Georgetown County, where property values have gone down, the local governments are raising millage to make sure they have enough money to meet their budgets.

Georgetown County has a proposed millage increase of 4.7 mills, from 49.2 mills on a variety of county funds to 53.9 mills on those same funds.

That millage equates to a lot of money for the county.

"It is estimated that Georgetown County would lose approximately $2.9 million in recurring property tax revenues" if it did not make that adjustment to its millage, said Scott Proctor, the finance director for Georgetown County.

Jessica Miller, the finance director for the city of Georgetown, said there is no requirement in state law to raise millage.

"But if you don't there's a shortfall. You aren't going to be able to cover your expenses," she said.

And for the city of Georgetown, raising millage because of reassessment is unusual.

"In the past we've always rolled millages back," said Chris Eldridge, the city administrator. "This time it happens to be the opposite."

Eldridge said in the past the city had to lower its millage to "make sure it stayed the same."

He said the law "assures that there's no windfall," from rising property values.

This year, if the city doesn't raise its millage it would have a shortfall of around $400,000, Miller said.

She said finding $400,000 to cut in the city's $8 million general fund budget would be difficult.

"Unless you're willing to cut some people or cut the lights off there's not a whole lot of other places to cut," Miller said.

Miller said the proposed increase of 6.1 mills, from 87 to 93.1, will ensure the city can meet its budget and no more.

"Reassessment is revenue-neutral," she said.

And an increase in millage doesn't always equate to an increase in property taxes because that generally happens to an area where property values have decreased, meaning there is less value in a property to tax.

Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said the millage increases are "a wash for the community as a whole."

"Some individuals are going to end up paying more because of this, but some people are going to end up paying less," he said.

Whether someone pays more or less in property taxes would depend on what happened to the value of his or her individual home. For example, if the value of a home decreased enough, the increase in the county's millage rate would be offset.

The public hearing on the Georgetown city increase will take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and the public hearing on Georgetown County's increase will take place Tuesday during its regular meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m.