By Paul Gable
A request by Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones to have county administrator Chris Eldridge sign off on an addendum to a contract with a county software supplier was shot down at Tuesday’s regular meeting of county council.
Jones made a presentation to county council about a new service the Treasurer wanted to institute in Horry County. The service would provide taxpayers who pay vehicle taxes in person at the Treasurer’s Office or one of the satellite offices with a new vehicle registration and decal for the license plate when the payment is made.
A convenience fee of $1 would be added to the vehicle tax notices to add this service.
According to Jones presentation, this service is already in place in 32 of the 46 counties in South Carolina and the $1 convenience fee is established by the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.
After Jones presentation, council chairman Mark Lazarus called for Horry County staff to address some issues with allowing the Treasurer’s Office to offer this convenience.
Eldridge moved to the microphone to speak for the staff. He began his remarks with the statement, “Of course there is litigation going on currently between the Treasurer’s Office and Horry County Council.”
Actually, the litigation is Angie Jones, Individually and as Horry County Treasurer v. Horry County, a body Politic and Chris Eldridge, in his capacity as Horry County Administrator.
Eldridge went on to say the request was a budgetary issue and if council wants it done, “it isn’t that much.” He would prefer to see it go through the normal budgetary process and would not support the $1 fee.
Council member Harold Worley said he thought the service was one that would benefit the citizens of Horry County but he didn’t support the $1 fee either. Worley said the citizens had suffered through a number of tax and fee increases in recent years and he considered it “a slap in the face to ask them for a dollar.”
Worley asked Jones to include the request during the upcoming budget process and pledged to do whatever she needed to make it work. “But, this tax increase, you’re exempting some, I want you to exempt them all…”
Jones said it was not a tax and “in public forum like this to look like I’m placing a tax on something, guys is a little bit of a stretch, so thank you for your time and I appreciate it.”
At that time, Jones walked out. Several council members went on to continue the discussion with some comments made about Jones’ departure.
According to Jones, her attorney had advised her if the word “litigation” came up at any time during her presentation, she was to end the discussion and leave. Jones said several council members were informed of this advisement before the council meeting began. Eldridge mentioned the “magic” word at the beginning of his remarks.
In addition, the comments and pushback, by Eldridge and some members of council, against the establishment of a $1 convenience fee, bears closer scrutiny.
Throughout his current 16 years on council and during his service in the S.C. House of Representatives prior to that time, Worley has consistently opposed tax and fee increases. His stance on the $1 fee issue was not unusual.
However, for Eldridge, Lazarus, and several other members of council to speak against the $1 fee is surprising. Three years ago, all vocally supported a property tax increase of approximately 7.5 mils and a 66% increase in the county road fee. All supported a fee increase of $7 per ton for the Horry County Solid Waste Authority landfill last year and all supported an extension of the countywide 2½% Hospitality Tax only several months ago.
To now come out like they are great defenders of the citizens of Horry County against tax and fee increases is disingenuous.
Furthermore, Jones attempted to go through the budget process after taking office as Horry County Treasurer July 1, 2017. She appeared before the Administration Committee to request the addition of one employee to her office, at a cost of approximately $30,000. That request was quickly committed to the “round file,” establishing one of the causes of Jones’ filing the above named suit.
There is no reason Jones should trust the budget process to include this new service, based on recent history.
Some of the rather snide comments made by council members after Jones’ departure only support this conclusion.