Horry County Schools’ limited money could leave many construction projects unfunded

Grand Strand
Horry County Schools

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Faced with limited funding and rapid growth, leadership at Horry County Schools is considering larger tax increases than previously disclosed to pay for new schools and renovations, new documents show. 

The district has added enough students to nearly fill an entire school every year in the last few years.

Horry County’s facilities department recently drafted a plan with more than $750 million worth of potential projects over the next five years. The plan include two new schools, a replacement school, five renovations or additions to schools, 40 modular classrooms, and projects to maintain other schools.

The recent construction of five new schools, which surpassed the district’s initial budget by more than $70 million, further limited the district’s ability to pay for more construction.  

The school board hasn’t voted on any funding and would have to do so before projects could move forward. Before Monday, the board had only publicly seen three funding options, including one with a tax increase. On Monday night, the board saw six more options that would increase taxes. 

In the most extreme scenario presented by the district’s finance department, property taxes would increase by $30 per year for someone’s legal residence appraised at $100,000. Other plans don’t make any changes to tax rates.

Among the plans that wouldn’t impact tax rates is one of the district’s “pay as we go” plans. It would generate the least money upfront – just $600,000 next school year — but it also wouldn’t have financing costs. By 2024, it would generate $56.1 million, only funding about 7% of the building plan.

The board may also choose to utilize its “8% debt capacity,” which is essentially the district’s credit line. It would generate more money immediately — $33.4 million next school year with no tax increases — but it would also leave the district with less funding than “pay as you go” due to financing costs.

The biggest opportunity for funding would come from a bond referendum. The amount could range from $150 million to $325 million, depending on how much the board chooses to raise taxes. The $325 million plan, paying for less than half of the building requests, would raise taxes by 4 mills or approximately $16 per year for someone’s legal residence appraised at $100,000.

The $325 million referendum also relies on the education capital sales tax, which voters must choose to renew in November 2022. If it isn’t renewed, property taxes could increase even more – up to 3.5 mills or approximately $14 per year for someone’s legal residence appraised at $100,000.

Altogether, the district’s considering nine possible plans, which you can see here. The board hasn’t given an indication of which plan it’ll choose, but board chairman Joe Defeo has previously expressed a hesitance to raise taxes.  

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