Horry growth helps demonstrate need for public safety tax increase

Horry County’s law enforcement division serves one of the fastest growing areas in the nation and the county is the largest in area east of the Mississippi, which means more people to protect, and more people to police.

Horry County added 9,300 residents in just one year — from July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014, according to statistics released in March by the U.S. Census bureau.

In addition, the department covers the largest county in area east of the Mississippi, which can make response times a challenge.

All of that adds up to a need for a modest increase in the property tax to fund public safety improvements, an increase that has squeaked through two votes of Horry County Council by a one-vote margin.

The detestation of taxes no doubt explains the 6-5 vote by the council in advancing the ordinance enabling the property tax increase, and another that raises the vehicle fee from $30 to $50 to raise $5.4 million for road improvements. The five council members voting against the law enforcement ordinance include Paul Prince, who represents the Loris area, where there has been a recent outbreak of violent crime. Other council naysayers include Harold Worley, whose district includes part of the Little River area; Marion Foxworth; Jody Prince and Tyler Servant.

The cost to taxpayers? The 7.2 mill increase boils down to $28.80 more per year in taxes for the owners of a home valued at $100,000. Homeowners with homestead exemptions would pay $14.40 ($1.20 a month) more and rental property owners an additional $43.20 in annual taxes. These are reasonable tax increases – granted that any tax increase is anathema to many.

What would the county get for the increase? Improvements include four violent crime detectives, three gang unit detectives, two added court security officers and two prosecutors in the Office of the Solicitor, 15th Judicial Circuit. The additional tax revenue of $13.5 million will pay for the purchase of body cameras – indisputably a valuable tool for modern law enforcement – and the necessary digital storage capacity for the recordings.

The Myrtle Beach Police Department experience with body cameras has shown the overall effectiveness of this technology. The five Horry County Council dissenters surely would be hard pressed to explain standing in the way of county police officers – and citizens in unincorporated areas – having the benefit of the cameras.

The added revenue also will provide a 5 percent pay increase for Class 1 officers, new stretchers for the ambulance service, police radar and addressing emergency call volume issues. The new money also funds a 3 percent pay increase for other county employees.

Admittedly, additional violent crime and gang unit detectives won’t solve the socio-economic problems that contribute to or create criminal behavior. However, an increased police presence, or more violent crime detectives, can make a difference in preventing and solving crimes.

Just last week, a 34-year-old Loris man was shot, kicked and robbed as he changed a flat tire on the shoulder of U.S. 701 North near Walkers Road. He told officers two men approached him and he thought they might help with the tire, but he was shot him in the leg, kicked, and robbed of his wallet.

“I propose, as hard as it is, to look at citizens and say ‘Guys, we need $28 on each hundred-thousand-dollar home, but in return, we’re going to provide the most important part … of county government, [which] is service to the citizens,’” Marcus Rhodes of the county’s law enforcement division, told council members on Tuesday. “It’s what you as a council can provide as a service to our citizens.”

A good many of those citizens are new arrivals to the fast-growing area. Here, and elsewhere, growth does not pay its own way. There is, for example, a gap between the purchase of a home and the county’s first receipt of property tax revenue.

The majority of six County Council members supporting the ordinance deserve credit for seeing beyond the general dislike of taxes and having the courage to vote for improving law enforcement.

By the June 16 council vote, we hope the other five will see the light.

Horry County Council members

Mark Lazarus, chairman, 915-5120, chairman@horrycounty.org

Harold Worley, District 1, 249-1436, countycouncil@horrycounty.org or www.haroldworley.com

Bill Howard, District 2, 421-2035, howardb@horrycounty.org

Marion Foxworth, District 3, 602-9111, marionfoxworth@gmail.com

Gary Loftus, District 4, loftusg@horrycounty.org

Tyler Servant, District 5, 421-7250, servantt@horrycounty.org

Vacant, District 6

James R. Frazier, District 7, 397-5423 or 450-7960, countycouncil@horrycounty.org

Johnny Vaught, District 8, 602-5241, jvaught@horrycounty.org

W. Paul Prince, vice chairman, District 9, 756-8916 or 450-3585, princep@horrycounty.org

Jody Prince, District 10, 283-8451, jody@jodyprince.com

Al Allen, District 11, 358-0100 or 602-9243, flyallen2@yahoo.com