By Paul Gable
It appears that decisions have been made out of the public eye that no referendum will be put to the people on whether to consolidate the Horry County Police Department and Horry County Sheriff’s Department.
An advertisement for applications for the position of police chief was posted recently on the Horry County website.
This would not have been done if there was any chance Horry County Council would vote to authorize a referendum on whether the two departments should be consolidated.
Sources familiar with the views of council members say there are only two votes among council members that would support placing a referendum before the voters.
There appeared to be a majority opinion among county residents that the Sheriff’s Department should take over HCPD in order to fix it. One wonders why county council members are so out of contact with the citizens they represent.
With the decision to forego a referendum and hire a new chief, the responsibility for fixing the many problems at HCPD rests squarely on the shoulders of Horry County Council members.
If the voters approved consolidation of the two departments, something I believe would have happened if a referendum were held, it would have solved another potential problem for Horry County Government that it has strived to ignore through the years.
The problem is one of dual taxation where residents of the various cities within Horry County pay tax millage to fund HCPD while not getting the benefit of police services from the county police.
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 Sheriff’s Department, by state law, has jurisdiction throughout the county, both within and without municipalities.
If HCPD were consolidated with the Sheriff’s Department, with the Sheriff over all law enforcement, citizens may not be taxed less for public safety, but those within the cities would at least get the benefit of the taxes they pay through increased services.
County council is aware this method of funding HCPD is in violation of state law, but the attitude seems to be we’ll keep doing it until we’re forced by a lawsuit to stop.
I guess that makes county council no better at obeying the law than the HCPD detectives and other personnel who are now the subject of lawsuits and SLED investigations.