By Paul Gable
When Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones agreed to drop her lawsuit against Horry County Government last month, there was an unwritten understanding that county council would include funding needs for her department in the budget for the coming fiscal year.
Now that understanding not only remains unwritten, but also remains unpassed.
During its third reading of the Horry County budget for Fiscal Year 2018-19 Tuesday night, council defeated, by a 6-6 vote, an amendment including budget enhancements for the Treasurer’s department. The budget amendment also called for additions in the $40,000 range each for the Clerk of Courts, Veterans Affairs and Voter Registration budgets.
Council member Johnny Vaught introduced the amendment, seconded by council member Harold Worley. Council chairman Mark Lazarus spoke strongly in its favor.
According to discussions of the amendment by council members, Jones identified revenue additions and/or savings in the amount of $123,000 for the coming fiscal year. Her request for budget enhancements would have only cost the county $111,000.
Additionally, one position provided in the enhancements would have gone to collection of the nearly $88 million in unpaid property taxes that are owed to the county.
In other words, the county would have made more money from voting for the enhancements than it saves by not voting for them.
Strong opposition was voiced by council members Dennis DiSabato and Bill Howard. In addition to DiSabato and Howard, those members voting No included: Tyler Servant, Harold Phillips, Gary Loftus and Cam Crawford.
A large majority of council had no problem diverting approximately $2 million from road maintenance fee revenue to Coast RTA for the coming fiscal year, but couldn’t see the forest for the trees when it came to possibly realizing considerably more revenue by giving the Treasurer another $111,000.
After the defeat of the amendment, Worley tried to save the deal by amending the amendment to reduce its overall cost by a bit. However, the six council members opposing the amendment remained firm in their negativity.
In addition to breaking its word to Jones, council discussions about impact fees and an advisory referendum for a tax increase for public safety were nothing more than silliness.
Impact fees and public safety were issues that played well for Johnny Gardner in his victory over incumbent Lazarus in the recent Republican primary election.
It is unclear whether the discussions were attempts by council to sabotage those issues before Gardner takes office in January 2019 or attempts to attach themselves to issues that are popular with voters. I suspect a little of both considering the council members involved.
I found it laughable that the current President of the Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors found it necessary to speak during Public Input pledging full support of her association as council addresses the impact fee issue. No association has done more than CCAR to torpedo realistic discussions and/or legislation on impact fees in the past.
The discussion and vote for an advisory referendum for the November general election on whether the public supports tax increases for additional public safety funding was a lot of hot air.
Even if the public voted 100 percent approval in an advisory referendum to raise taxes, council is still bound by the restrictions in Act 388 of 2006 and the council members involved in supporting the advisory referendum should know this.
Scaring the voters with rumors of big tax increases to fund public safety and a faux referendum on the issue to support those rumors are not going to end the discussion.
Gardner did not mention tax increases during his campaign and for any council member to do so before the new chairman takes office and officially addresses his proposals is silly and disingenuous.
Many items become sacred cows in government budgets through the years for no other reason than they benefit some friend or supporter of some former legislator. Periodic review of those sacred cows is rarely, if ever, undertaken, but is a key to fiscally responsible spending of taxpayer dollars.
Additional funding for public safety does not automatically equate to additional taxes as some council members would have you believe. You have to ask why they would resort to that discussion?