By Reese Boyd III
(Ed. Note – Reese Boyd III is a local attorney, former candidate for Horry County Council and an active member of the Horry County Republican Party. He was a staff attorney for Gov. Carroll Campbell and a recipient of the Order of the Palmetto for his work in state government.)
Justifying or attempting to justify an unnecessary tax increase has become something of a cottage industry in Conway this week.
A few County Councilmen have nearly tripped over themselves trying to come up with more and better reasons for supporting one of Council’s biggest tax hikes in a generation. Their efforts to explain this tax hike to taxpayers runs the gamut from unconvincing to just plain silly.
We are told that this situation is an emergency and that this budget must be passed on Tuesday night in order to meet the June 30 deadline. But the inconvenient truth is this “disaster” is one that Council has created. They got themselves into a pickle, and now they want an easy way out. And one of the easiest ways out, as always, is to ask taxpayers for more money. But as the old saying goes, “poor planning on your part does not make for an emergency on my part!”
The fact is, when it was presented for first reading, the 2016 budget did not contain a tax increase. So where did this tax increase come from? Well, it turns out that the first reading of the budget, which gave a whopping pay raise to County Administrator Chris Eldridge, while at the same time cutting benefits for firemen, police, and other county employees, wasn’t very popular politically with most anyone except for the County Administrator. That may not shock you. It apparently shocked many on Council.
It turns out that more than a few county employees were upset by all this, and they let Council hear about it. Then, and rater suddenly, Council was rather shocked (shocked!) to learn that County employees had not received a pay raise in four years. Equally suddenly, we learned that the “public safety” of our citizens demanded a whopping 7.2 mill property tax increase in Horry County.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Just pass your wallets to the front. Thank you!
The problem with the “public safety” justification is that, of the $13 Million raised by the tax increase, only a scant $1.5 Million will actually go to fund public safety initiatives or improvements. The proposal will not increase community policing, nor will it put a single additional officer on the streets.
What about the claim that our county employees have not had a pay raise in four years? I’ve heard at least one Councilman make that statement, and I disagree, since recent budgets have in fact included pay raises for County employees. But let’s assume it true. Even if there had been no pay raises for County employees in four years, Department of Labor data shows that real wages, on average, have actually declined for many workers in the private sector over the same period. It has been reported that the average salary and benefits for all County employees is $57,177. That number places county employees well ahead of the average wage earners in the private sector in Horry County. According to Census Bureau data, 58% of Horry County families have household income of $50,000 or less. And that is household income, not individual pay. Two county employees married to one another and each making $57,177 would be in the top 15% of families by household income in Horry County!
Try not to focus on the numbers. Your County Council is in a pickle, and they need your help. You might ask why County Council isn’t making a long term commitment to smaller government and fiscal responsibility, and looking at boondoggles like the Horry County Solid Waste Authority, the elimination of which would save taxpayers millions of dollars annually, instead of asking you to write a bigger check. But really, isn’t it easier just to grab your checkbook?
Governing with a long-term commitment to fiscal responsibility and spending your money as carefully as you would is not easy. I am reminded of something John F. Kennedy once said, that we chose to go to the moon, and do other things, not because they were easy, but because they were hard. Governing well is hard. Raising taxes is easy. Let’s demand that our County Council govern well. Yes, it is hard, but it’s not too much to ask.
For now, the case for increasing your taxes has not been made.