By Paul Gable
The tax increase FY 2016 budget of Horry County Council remains a major topic of conversation throughout the county.
Council will vote on third reading of what could be the largest Horry County tax increase in a generation at its regular meeting Tuesday June 16, 2015.
Why it all became necessary within the last month is the real story.
During both the fall and spring budget retreats of Horry County Council, as well as first reading of the budget, the discussion was of a balanced budget with no tax increase.
Then, council voted a new contract for county administrator Chris Eldridge with annual pay increases of $10,000 and a six month severance package. The only thing Eldridge is guaranteed is the severance package as council can vote to terminate him at any time, but, if he remains for several years, he will receive annual increases of $10,000.
Upset at the possible pay increases for Eldridge, the county employees, especially those in public safety departments, began an organized campaign of calling council members to complain.
A majority of Horry County Council members were intimidated enough to completely restructure the budget to include somewhere in excess of $4 million for a pay increase for all county employees. (The county has still not answered our request for the total amount being dedicated to the pay increase.)
To mask their intimidation, those council members supporting the tax increase have verbalized things like a shrinking excess reserve fund and the need to better pay public safety employees as their justification for the tax increase.
But, nothing has really changed from first reading of the budget. No tax increase is needed this year. And nothing in the budget increase will pay for new HCPD patrol officers meaning no reduction in response times or increased community policing will result from this massive increase.
County employees are not underpaid and the excess reserve worries can be better addressed with a good, year-long study of county revenues and expenses, not a one month knee jerk reaction.
According to the county’s own statistics, the average pay and benefit package for a county employee is $57,177 per year. The county contribution to health insurance and retirement for all county employees far exceeds what is available in the private sector in Horry County.
When the current, ongoing recession struck, not one county employee was laid off because of it. Their jobs and benefits were guaranteed by county council.
This did not happen in the private sector, which is now being asked to pay even more in taxes to fund pay increases for county employees whose compensation is approximately 33% higher than the overall average wage in Horry County. (Private sector pay drags the average down).
We elect our council members to be good stewards of the tax dollars paid by our citizens, not to increase taxes and throw those dollars around in panic.
During the 2014 election cycle, council chairman Mark Lazarus committed to the public to “Oppose New Taxes”. View here: http://lazarusforchair.com/issues/
Council member Johnny Vaught promised to “keep property taxes low”. View here: http://voteforvaught.com/right-on-the-issues/
Council member Bill Howard stated in a media interview, “I will listen to the tax payers the people that pay the taxes is who we need to listen to.”
Council member Al Allen proudly aligned himself with the TEA Party, an organization supposedly dedicated to “Taxed Enough Already”.
Yet, every one of these council members voted for the tax increase at second reading of the budget with Lazarus and Allen leading the charge to raise taxes and Vaught and Howard following like sheep.
The TEA Party has announced a meeting for Monday June 15, 2015 (one night before the third reading vote) to allow Horry County Council member Al Allen to explain why he is such a strong supporter of the tax increase. The meeting will be held at Friendly’s Restaurant, 48th Ave. North and Kings Hwy, Myrtle Beach, beginning at 6 p.m.
It will be interesting to see the results of this meeting. If any TEA Party member supports Allen’s position after the meeting, they will have instantly converted from the TEA Party to the ROT Party (Raise Our Taxes Party).
A petition opposing the tax increase is available for signing on the internet at: https://www.change.org/p/horry-county-council-stop-the-horry-county-property-tax-increase?recruiter=79852112&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive