By Paul Gable
The proposed Horry County tax increase being considered by Horry County Council will not provide much benefit to public safety services.
This is contrary to what has been publicized about it – a tax increase for public safety.
The proposal does include adding seven new detectives, only four of which will serve the county directly. No new patrol officers will be added, according to information provided to Horry County Council members at last Wednesday’s budget workshop.
According to county officials, 63% of the county’s general fund budget is spent on the Department of Public Safety. Since 2006, the Department of Public Safety has absorbed the bulk of the increase in the budget.
In that sense and that sense only, the proposed 7.2 mil tax increase can be considered a public safety increase.
However, as council member Harold Worley said at last week’s Horry County Council budget workshop, not one penny of the tax increase will go toward putting one extra officer on the street. Response times will not go down nor will community policing increase because of the tax increase.
The tax increase is really a response by Horry County Council to widespread discontent among county employees with respect to the new four year contract, including $10,000 per year pay increases, approved recently for Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge.
In my opinion, that’s not a good enough reason to raise property taxes. Neither is the secondary reason which deals with inordinate fear among county staff about using the county’s EXCESS reserve fund.
The 7.2 mil increase will bring an additional $13.5 million in general fund revenue.
Of that increase, $8 million will offset the need to use $8 million from the county’s excess reserve fund in next year’s budget. The excess reserve comes from excess tax revenues collected over budgeted projections in prior years.
And with the economy in better shape and building increasing throughout the county, we can expect county revenues to exceed what is projected in next year’s budget. With no tax increase, the county may have to use a couple of million from its excess reserves, but not the entire $8 million originally projected.
A total of $3 million is targeted to an across the board pay increase of 3% for all county employees except entry level police officers who will receive a 5% pay increase.
$1 million will be used for capital improvements within the county budget and the remaining $1.5 million will go toward budget enhancements such as the additional seven detectives, two new sheriff deputies for court security, two new assistant solicitors and some equipment purchases.
The fault for a tax increase, if one comes, cannot only be laid at the feet of those council members who vote for it.
Some of the problem comes from our state legislative delegation sitting on their hands in Columbia.
In next year’s county budget, nearly $10 million will be spent on unfunded mandates from the SC General Assembly. The General Assembly dictates funding various offices and programs while not providing the money to the counties to do so.
Additionally, the General Assembly has consistently underfunded the Local Government Fund by passing yearly exceptions to the state law mandating the percentage to be refunded to counties. This costs Horry County several million dollars each year, which must be born by the taxpayers of the county.
At the same time, our legislative delegation routinely votes to fund many unnecessary projects (read pork) from the state Capital Reserve Fund most of which are dictated by the more influential members of each house, none of whom come from the Horry County legislative delegation.
Personally, I don’t see where the county needs to raise taxes at all this year. But, if it does, you can hold responsible for your tax rates going up both those tax and spend liberal Republican county council members who vote for the tax increase and our entire legislative delegation which does not vote in the best interests of the county’s taxpayers.