By Paul Gable
If Horry County budget discussions are any indication, it appears changes will be made in the way the Horry County Police Department is funded.
That appears to be the sentiment of a majority of council members after this week’s Horry County Council budget retreat.
The exact change is not certain at this time, but the establishment of a special tax district in the unincorporated areas of Horry County seems to be the method drawing the most attention at this point.
HCPD is currently funded from the county’s general fund from county wide millage collected from property owners throughout the county.
However, since a magistrate judge ruling in 2004, HCPD is essentially limited to policing in the unincorporated areas of the county.
This means taxpayers in the incorporated municipalities of Horry County are helping pay for county police, but are basically not benefitting from their services. At the same time, the municipal property owners are paying additional property tax that goes to fund municipal police services.
A majority of Horry County Council understands this is a form of dual taxation that is both unfair and probably not legal if challenged in court.
Establishing a special tax district in the unincorporated areas of the county with millage specifically collected to fund HCPD would solve the problem.
So would disbanding HCPD and transferring personnel and regular police duties back to the Sheriff’s Department as is practiced in the other 45 counties in South Carolina.
State law specifically allows sheriff’s deputies to enforce the law throughout the county and funding the department with county wide millage is perfectly legal.
But, it seems right now that keeping HCPD while drawing its funding and limiting its policing to unincorporated areas of the county is the preference of a majority of Horry County Council members.
This will not be a quick decision. It will take a favorable vote on a referendum by voters in the unincorporated areas of the county to establish the special tax district after the details are worked out and publicly debated.
Preliminary numbers fall in the range of a 9 mill tax reduction for municipal property owners and a tax increase, possibly as high as 18-20 mills, for property owners in the unincorporated areas of the county.