By Paul Gable
Horry County Council is expected to have a discussion next week about placing an advisory referendum on the November 2018 general election ballot regarding tax increases for public safety.
The issue was proposed by council member Tyler Servant at last month’s council meeting. Acknowledging the main topic of the primary election which cost council chairman Mark Lazarus nomination to another term in office, Servant said he was opposed to raising taxes but believed the voters should have a say on whether they wanted to pay higher taxes to increase public safety services in the county.
Council members Dennis DiSabato and Cam Crawford jumped on the bandwagon, acknowledging a need for more public safety personnel and facilities in the county but saying the voters should make the decision.
The discussion will be a waste of time as an advisory referendum will not solve the problem of funding for public safety needs. Regardless of how the referendum is worded and what percentage of the vote it may receive, an advisory binds the council to no action and, furthermore, does not provide permission from voters to raise taxes above the limits of Act 388.
The proposal for a discussion and resolution vote to place the advisory referendum on the ballot appears to be an attempt to divert the discussion from various alternatives for public safety funding to a possible tax increase.
Republican chairman nominee Johnny Gardner, who defeated Lazarus in the June primary voting, never mentioned raising taxes while he campaigned on increasing public safety personnel numbers and pay throughout the county.
Gardner said the current 20 ½ minutes average elapsed time it takes from when a 911 call is answered until a first responder arrives on the scene is unacceptable. Gardner pledged to make public safety funding priority one in the budget process.
At times, when extra sources of tax dollars become available, public safety staffing is never on the radar of most council members and county staff.
In Spring 2017, council voted to extend hospitality tax collections beyond their current use with a stated view of providing revenue for the construction of Interstate 73 from I-95 at Dillon to Myrtle Beach.
Fall 2017 saw council approve the purchase of swamp land off of International Drive for $12 million calling it a future nature reserve and potential mitigation credits for future wetland disturbances.
Council member Harold Worley was a lone voice in the wilderness saying those money sources should be used for public safety needs.
At other times, when possible sources of extra revenue could be collected, council and staff refuse to take the small steps necessary to potentially realize big gains. The most glaring example of this is when county council recently defeated an amendment for an addition of approximately $100,000 to the County Treasurer’s budget, a budget essentially prepared by county staff. A portion of this addition would have been used to concentrate on collecting the approximately $80 million of unpaid taxes owed to the county.
No one knows just how much of the outstanding $80 million can be collected, but a portion certainly can. Unfortunately, council, including Servant, DiSabato and Crawford, voted against giving the Treasurer the funds she needed.
Regardless of what transpires during next week’s council discussion of an advisory referendum for the November general election ballot, understand this is much more smokescreen than a valid exercise.
Interestingly, various citizens I have spoken with since this advisory referendum was first proposed unanimously said nothing should be done until the new chairman takes office on January 1, 2019.
But, council is generally too impressed with its own perceived importance to stoop to listening to the desires of average citizens.