By Paul Gable
Faced with the possibility of a 3.5 mill tax increase, for those living in the unincorporated areas of Horry County, residents descended on county council chambers last night to beg for an almost double tax increase than was initially proposed.
Speaker after speaker came to the microphone, during public input on the county’s budget deliberations, to beg for higher taxes, higher even than the politicians were considering.
When the issue was settled, council voted 7-5 to raise taxes by 6 mills in the unincorporated areas of the county to fund improvements in fire services, mostly in the rural western part of the county.
This was not an insurrection of newly arrived liberals. The initiative to raise taxes was strongly backed by Republican council members, Tea Party members and citizens from the most conservative areas of the county. The two Democrats on county council, James Frazier and Marion Foxworth, voted against the tax increase.
The council member leading the charge was Al Allen, the Tea Party’s choice in the recent special election for Horry County Council chairman. Allen called the tax increase the “right thing to do” and was the member who moved an amendment to the budget raising the tax increase to a full 6 mills rather than the 3.5 mills that was proposed earlier in the budget process.
The tax increase applies to the special tax fire district in Horry County which includes virtually all of the unincorporated areas of the county. It will not apply to residents living within incorporated city limits in the county.
The increase was needed to maintain current services throughout the county and to replace some significantly aged equipment.
Without the increase, some homeowners and businesses, especially in the rural western parts of the county, would have seen fire stations near them close resulting in higher fire insurance premiums.
But, these premium increases would have affected only a relative few of those who will pay the increased taxes. The increase was correctly called, on the council dais, a transfer of wealth from more urbanized unincorporated areas of the county to more rural ones.
Some of the very rural fire sections provide only approximately $45,000 in taxes to the fire district while services for those same areas cost approximately $340,000 per year, according to one member of county council.
Those citizens in Socastee and Carolina Forest, for example, the more urbanized areas in the fire district, would probably not have seen a cut in services or a rise in fire insurance premiums. Those in Allen’s District 11 would have probably been most affected by cuts and potential increases. But all will pay the 6 mill tax increase.
This is a perfect example of what can happen when urban level services are added to rural areas. You can’t take them back.
At least in Horry County last night, the message was clear. When citizens were faced with a choice between reduced government services or increased taxes, there was a loud call for increased taxes. Much higher taxes than those proposed by elected officials.
The message was also clear that Republican Party and associated Tea Party members cannot claim the high ground on fighting against tax increases in Horry County any longer. They were the ones leading the charge.