By Paul Gable
Horry County Council will conduct its annual fall budget retreat next week among uncertainty about how much revenue the county will collect from property taxes in the coming fiscal year.
This is a budget reassessment year with all indications that property in the county will have a lower assessed value than it did five years ago, the result of the bursting of the housing bubble five years ago.
Some oceanfront property is known to have sold as much as 70 percent lower in the past few years as the result of distressed sales.
The state’s Act 388 of 2007 made the point of sale price the determining factor in new assessed values on property. Lower sales prices mean lower assessed values on which taxes are calculated.
If the county experiences a diminished tax base, it has three possible solutions – raise taxes, decrease services or find new revenue streams.
If it wants to collect the same tax revenue it did last year, Horry County Council will be in the unique position of having to raise tax millage on decreased property values in order to collect the same revenue.
However, 2014 is an election year and will council want to justify a tax increase, even one that would only keep revenue steady, in the same year voters go to the polls with the council chairman and six council members up for re-election?
Council could hold the line on millage, thereby reducing revenue, which would necessitate cuts in county services.
There is the possibility of finding a new revenue stream, which would allow the county to maintain services and avoid a tax increase. This option would mean actually gaining benefit from the solid waste flow control ordinance the county passed in 2009.
This would mean some changes in relations with, and possibly in the form of, the Horry County Solid Waste Authority. It would also allow county citizens to actually benefit from flow control by using the excess revenue it generates to fund some county services rather than for things such as $865,000 for a lobbying firm and $450,000 for a public relations firm, among other wasteful spending by the HCSWA.
Next week, we should get some indications of which of the three tracks Horry County Council will pursue.