Horry County’s Political Schism

By Paul Gable

One glance at the agenda for Tuesday’s upcoming special meeting and workshop of Horry County Council demonstrates the political schism that exists in local politics.

Council will consider two resolutions that propose advisory referendums on the upcoming November 2018 general election ballot to raise countywide property taxes by 10 mils to fund police, EMS, Sheriff and E911service improvements throughout the county and one to raise property taxes by an additional 9.5 mils in the unincorporated areas of the county to fund fire improvements.

The entire discussion of these two referendums is nothing more than a knee jerk reaction to the defeat of incumbent council chairman Mark Lazarus by Johnny Gardner in the June 2018 Republican Primary for the nomination for council chairman.

One of the reasons Gardner won the nomination was his motto of “First Responders First” and his promise to take care of the additional needs of public safety departments in upcoming county budgets. It must be noted, Gardner never proposed tax increases to fund additional personnel and pay raises for first responders. Rather, he proposed prioritizing the needs of public safety during the budget process with current revenues and funds.

Over the last five years, Lazarus and council have basically ignored the increasing needs of public safety. After the voters made themselves heard by voting Lazarus out in June, it is all of a sudden a council priority necessitating a special meeting.

Being advisory rather than binding referendums, the results will mean nothing. The resolutions were first proposed by council member Tyler Servant at the June 19, 2018 regular meeting of council.

Servant said he was a strong fiscal conservative Republican who opposed tax increases, but proposed allowing the voters to make the decision. A true, fiscal conservative would first look to current revenues and funds to meet these needs and consider tax increases only after every other option has been considered and discarded.

The issue of additional public safety funding should be a deliberative process. It should go through the council committee structure and be subjected to public input in public forums. It should not be some quickly put together proposal by county staff to attempt to justify the only solution as large tax increases, then, put to the public in meaningless referendums, especially while a ‘Lame Duck’ chairman is finishing out his term.

Three more resolutions that will be considered by council deal with attempting to tie up future hospitality tax revenues. The largest of these resolutions proposes to set aside $30 million annually for construction of I-73 in Horry County.

I-73 is basically already built in Horry County. We call it SC 22. If these funds are set aside, they will eventually go through a laundering process that will see their actual use as construction of I-73 in Dillon and Marion counties.

All of the propaganda we have heard about I-73 over the last 15 years has been a smokescreen to keep alive what is a boondoggle project for the benefit of a few special interests who will profit financially from its construction.

The other two resolutions propose to use a small amount of future hospitality tax revenues for funding public safety and for a comprehensive road maintenance plan after future staff studies and proposals.

Again, none of these should be considered during the waning months of a ‘Lame Duck’ chairman, but should be put to extensive consideration, review and public input before decisions are made.

The final two pieces of business for council consideration are budget amendments proposed by Servant for small budget enhancements that would have been passed by simple majority at council’s final regular June 2018 meeting if Servant had cast a vote in favor of them at the time.

Now, they require passage by nine ‘Yes’ votes from the 12 member council. This is essentially ‘too little, too late’ on issues that should have been resolved by careful deliberation during the normal budget process.

A final resolution that was prepared for the meeting, but not included on the Agenda, dealt with changing the form of county government from the current Council-Administrator to Council-Manager. The only effect this would have had was to change the way the County Treasurer and County Auditor are selected – taking away the right of the citizens to vote for these positions and filling them by appointment of the county manager.

The resolution proposed sending the decision to voters by referendum, as required by law, without explaining what the ramifications of the change would have been. It is nothing more than a mean spirited response to the lawsuit filed by Treasurer Angie Jones last year.

And council has never told the public it spent twice as much public money defending the lawsuit brought by Jones than it would have spent if it merely agreed to Jones initial request, the denial of which prompted the lawsuit in the first place.

The political schism, knee jerk reactions without real deliberation and ‘Lame Duck’ status of the chairman while these things are going on are all issues that must be addressed before the citizens receive the type of leadership from council they expect and deserve.

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