CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Some Horry County Council members say they may have to increase property taxes in order to afford raises for first responders, because of the county’s ongoing legal battle with cities and towns over hospitality tax money.
Some council members like Harold Worley of North Myrtle Beach say they’re frustrated with the lack of communication with municipalities due to the city of Myrtle Beach’s lawsuit against the county.
“I don’t like the fact that I cannot talk with my mayor,” Worley said. “Mayor (Marilyn) Hatley is a good mayor and she works hard. The fact that she and I can no longer work together because of this lawsuit, I don’t like it a bit.”
Several council members say they won’t let the lawsuit stop them from giving pay raises to police offciers, firefighters and EMTs.
“I wish I could say I never voted for a tax increase, but I’m not going to do a disservice to the people of Horry County and not take care of the county employees,” said Danny Hardee, a council member representing the Green Sea community.
When council passed second reading of next year’s budget Tuesday night, it added property tax increases to fund a 4.4% raise for public safety employees. Taxes would go up by $15.20 on a $200,000 house in unincorporated parts of the county. The county estimates about $3.4 million would be generated in the additional property taxes.
The raises weren’t the only part of public safety that council wanted to fund. Council planned to use hospitality tax revenue to pay for raises and new first responders.
The county says it can’t plan for that while the tourist tax money is stuck in the lawsuit.
“They need more people,” said county finance director Barry Spivey. “That might be a great vehicle. We have approximately $9.5 million, I think, that can be used when that money is available.”
Worley re-emphasized the county’s April offer to split hospitality tax money with cities and towns.
He says Myrtle Beach, for example, would make about $4 million more in that deal than if the city collects tourist taxes by itself.
“Even they have budget issues too,” Worley said. “Myrtle Beach has budget (issues). They need this money.”
Council also increased several fees in the proposed budget, especially business license fees. Those fees would help fund parks and recreation, as well as waste management, among other services. The county estimates it could generate about $4 million in additional revenue by raising business license fees.
Casino boat fees would increase from $7 to $10 per person, starting February 3, 2020. The county says that could generate $100,000 in the next fiscal year, with greater earnings expected when the increased fee is in place for a full year.
Code enforcement fees would also go up for reinspections ($100), fire inspections (between $50 and $100) and building permits ($0.05 per square foot for residential properties), generating an estimated $708,000. The county would also add a property tax administrative fee of 0.4%, which is estimated to bring in $200,000.
The budget must pass a third and final reading in June, but council could amend it later if the hospitality tax lawsuit is resolved and the county starts getting tourist tax money again.