Post Tagged with: "public safety"

Changing Focus on the County Budget Process

December 10, 2018 9:21 AM
Changing Focus on the County Budget Process

Horry County began its budget process for Fiscal Year 2020 with its fall planning retreat November 28th.

This was the beginning of what could prove to be a very interesting budget year.

Incoming council chairman Johnny Gardner pledged on the campaign trail, “Public Safety Priority One Day One” as his approach to the county budget process.

County staff heard a portion of that message. The early budget outline includes an additional approximately eight million dollars for public safety. That addition is based on what staff believes can be used from excess hospitality fee revenues after Ride I bonds are paid off early in 2019.

However, despite a county council resolution to use approximately $18 million from those revenues toward public safety, infrastructure and areas like recreation, staff has held firm to the $8 million it proposed last July.

Additionally, council directed staff to prepare an ordinance amending current county code pertaining to the funds received from what is known as the 1.5% portion of hospitality fee revenue that currently goes to pay off the Ride I bonds. Currently all of that revenue is deposited in a special road fund per county code.

To date, staff has not presented an ordinance amendment to change that designation to include public safety, infrastructure, recreation and the like.

This avoidance of acting on a resolution designating the will of council can only be attributed to at least certain members of county senior staff continuing to desire that all of the Ride I 1.5% money go to I-73, which was initially proposed to council.

Therein lies the basic contradiction in the county budget process – council directs, but staff does what it wants to.

Read more ›

Hospitality Fee Alternatives to I-73 Agreement

November 27, 2018 10:00 AM
Hospitality Fee Alternatives to I-73 Agreement

When Horry County Council debates signing a funding agreement with SCDOT for I-73 tomorrow, there are several alternatives that should be considered before a decision is made.

As Grand Strand Daily stated in a previous article, all of the hype for I-73 is located only in Horry County. It is a given that any money designated for the project will come from Horry County only for at least the next several years.

In early calendar year 2019, the county will begin to collect Hospitality Fee revenue in excess of that needed to pay off the bonds that funded Ride I. The proposal before council is to designate approximately $25 million of that money to I-73 with SCDOT generally in control of how that money is spent.

Rather than purchasing rights of way and doing engineering design for a brand new road that may never be built beyond the borders of Horry County, why not look at using that $25 million per year toward road projects that could benefit Horry County citizens immediately upon their completion and certainly meet the standard of being tourism related?

One project that quickly comes to mind for study is raising the road bed of SC 22 between Hwy 905 and Hwy 90 to eliminate the flooding of that road that occurred during Hurricane Florence. One could even say this improvement will benefit I-73 if that road ever becomes a reality.

Two other projects that would immediately benefit both local citizens and tourists would be raising the road bed of SC 9 around Aberdeen to prevent flooding closure of the road such as has been experienced at least four times since 1999 and improvements to U.S. 501 in the Lake Busbee area to help prevent the issues Hurricane Florence and previous storms caused on that road.

Considering the designation of the excess Hospitality Fee revenue to any or all of the above three projects would have immediate benefit to citizens rather than wasting the money on purchasing rights of way and beginning engineering design of a road that may never be built.

Read more ›

Tilly Swamp Rezoning – What Next

November 23, 2018 9:32 AM
Tilly Swamp Rezoning – What Next

The rezoning for the Bear properties in the Tilly Swamp area failed to get second reading approval of the rezoning ordinance at the regular November 13, 2018 meeting of Horry County Council, but the issue is not decided yet.

The rezoning failed by a 6-5 vote of council. After the vote, council immediately took a break. According to sources who spoke with Grand Strand Daily on the condition of anonymity, council member Paul Prince, one of the 6 ‘No’ votes, spoke with several council members from the ‘Yes’ side during the break.

When council reconvened, Prince announced he was “confused” during the rezoning vote and moved for reconsideration. After receiving a second to the motion, the five remaining ‘No’ voting council members walked from the dais and left the council chambers leaving only six council members in the meeting at that time.

Council chairman Mark Lazarus has a conflict of interest on the issue and recused himself from the vote which includes leaving the council chambers during any discussion and/or vote on the rezoning ordinance.

Six members of council is not a quorum for conducting business, therefore no reconsideration vote of the rezoning ordinance could be taken.

The main issues of concern with the rezoning are lack of sufficient infrastructure to support nearly 1,500 new homes in the Tilly Swamp area as well as lack of sufficient police, fire and EMS services in the location.

Those issues were addressed by spokespersons for the approximately 250 members of the public who were present in council chambers demonstrating opposition to the rezoning ordinance. Those issues will not go away in the short term.

A vote on an ordinance can be reconsidered before the minutes of the meeting at which the original vote took place are approved by council. Those minutes will not be considered for approval until the December 18, 2018 regular meeting of council.

Read more ›

County Council Votes Hospitality Tax Funds for Public Safety and I-73

July 27, 2018 4:10 AM
County Council Votes Hospitality Tax Funds for Public Safety and I-73

Last Tuesday’s special meeting of Horry County Council provided some interesting insights into ongoing deliberations about the future use of hospitality tax revenue.

Technically called a hospitality fee by Horry County Government, the two and one-half percent tax is collected on all tourist accommodations, prepared foods and attraction tickets sold throughout the county. The revenue is split with one cent per dollar going to the jurisdiction (municipality or unincorporated county) in which it is collected.

The remaining one and one-half cent per dollar goes to the county to pay off Ride I bonds. Those bonds are expected to be paid off in the first half of calendar year 2019.

A sunset provision was placed on the one and one-half cent per dollar tax, when legislation implementing the tax in Horry County was passed, providing that portion of the tax would end when the bonds were paid off.

County council voted in Spring 2017 to remove the sunset provision and extend the tax indefinitely. The one and one-half cent per dollar tax is expected to generate $41 million revenue in calendar year 2019.

When the sunset provision was removed by a three reading ordinance of county council last spring, council chairman Mark Lazarus stated he would like to use the revenue to fund construction of Interstate 73. The projected revenue would have allowed the county to bond approximately $500 million for a 20-year period to help fund the I-73 project. It is expected completion of the I-73 portion from I-95 near Dillon to U.S. 17 in Myrtle Beach will cost approximately $1.2 billion.

This spring, Johnny Gardner challenged Lazarus for the Republican nomination for council chairman on the November 2018 general election ballot. During the primary campaign, Gardner focused on the public safety and infrastructure needs of the county, proposing using a portion of hospitality tax revenue to help meet those needs. Gardner won the nomination in June 2018 primary voting.

Read more ›

Horry County’s Political Schism

July 22, 2018 9:22 AM
Horry County’s Political Schism

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.

Read more ›

Johnny Gardner’s Campaign Message Spurs County Council Discussion

June 20, 2018 2:03 AM
Johnny Gardner’s Campaign Message Spurs County Council Discussion

One week after defeating incumbent Mark Lazarus for the Republican nomination for Horry County Council Chairman, Johnny Gardner’s campaign message is already driving council discussions.

Throughout his campaign Gardner spoke of putting “Public Safety First” and charging fees on new development to help pay for the impact it causes on county goods and services.

During its regular meeting Tuesday night, council approved two resolutions directly tied to those issues.

By an 11-1 margin, council member Tyler Servant opposing, council approved a resolution to encourage the South Carolina General Assembly to amend the current state Impact Fee law to make it more user friendly for local governments struggling to meet the costs associated with new development.

Later in the meeting, Servant introduced a resolution to instruct staff to bring back to council a proposed advisory referendum question to address raising tax millage to fund increased salaries and additional personnel for police and fire/rescue departments as well as an additional police precinct for Carolina Forest.

After discussion, it was agreed to split the issue into two referendum questions, one for police and rescue personnel and another for fire, because of the different ways in which police and rescue personnel are funded in the budget from that used to fund fire personnel.

County Administrator Chris Eldridge was instructed to meet with the the Police and Fire/Rescue chiefs to determine the increased needs in their respective departments to fully meet the county’s public safety requirements.

Council must approve referendum questions by the end of July in order to meet the August 15th deadline to have them included on the November 2018 general election ballot.

Read more ›

Lazarus Walks Out of Burgess Forum

June 8, 2018 10:23 AM
Lazarus Walks Out of Burgess Forum

The key issue in the campaign for the Republican nomination for Horry County Council erupted last night at the candidate forum in the Burgess Community and council chairman Mark Lazarus chose to walk out of the meeting rather than discuss it.

The issue is the treatment of public safety personnel in particular and county employees in general. According to numerous sources from rank and file county employees, Lazarus, in coordination with senior staff, treats them like automatons to do as they’re told and face retribution if they ask any questions.

Below are three emails sent to the Johnny Gardner campaign and shared with Grand Strand Daily from rank and file first responders who are completely frustrated with the way they have been treated and ignored by county council and county senior staff. Messages like those below are sent to the Gardner campaign on a daily basis by different individuals:

“I’m sure the members of HCFR will support you but they truly fear retribution if things don’t turn out right. That’s how it’s been here. In the recent past about 2/3 of the supervisors at HCFR were transferred for no apparent reason. Also our Deputy Chief was asked to resign because he had a dissenting opinion from the Public Safety Director. So, in my eyes fear of retribution is real.”

“Thank you for recognizing our need in the fire rescue and police public safety side of things. Our departments have gone on too long operating under the good ole boy budget … thank you again for fighting for us, the public safety guys/citizens of Horry County, who only want our departments to serve the county to its fullest capacity!”

“I am a FF with HCFR, and I just wanted to let you know that you are very well appreciated and backed by myself, and just about everyone I know in the Dept. Can’t wait for June 12th to get someone on the council who sees the needs of the county as a priority.”

Questioned on treatment of personnel within the Fire Rescue Department by a former fire fighter who is now disabled because of injuries suffered from falling debris while fighting a fire in the county, Lazarus told the man “You are no longer a county employee, I am not going to answer your question.”

Read more ›

County Continues to Kick the Can Down the Road

May 30, 2018 8:41 AM
County Continues to Kick the Can Down the Road

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the editorial cartoon published by local cartoonist Ed Wilson on Facebook yesterday (pictured above) is worth an entire book.

The strokes of Wilson’s pen starkly captured the central problem with county government today. Serious issues (cans) have been kicked down the road for too long without being addressed.

The county’s public safety departments have suffered systemic problems from being ignored for too long.

Long hours, low pay and reduced benefits have led to low morale and high turnover resulting in understaffed public safety departments while the county population continues to grow creating ever larger demands for services.

There are many situations in which new personnel are paid almost as much, in some cases more, than officers with five plus years of experience. Even so, high turnover in the first few years of employment keeps the departments short of trained, experienced personnel.

According to many sources, the officers who provide our everyday safety needs are warned not to speak out publicly about issues within the departments or face reprisals.

The entire approach to public safety can be compared to sticking multiple fingers in a dike to, hopefully, hold off a deluge while continuing to turn a blind eye to attempting to plan a fix that would bring the departments to a more secure footing.

And public safety problems are not the only ones that have been ignored.

The heavy rains over the weekend caused considerable flooding in relatively new developments along Hwy 905 – again.

This seems to be a perfect example of allowing developers to rezone plots of land for residential housing, build and sell the houses quickly and get out with their profits before inherent problems in the area become known.

Even if rezoning requests were well researched and developed by county staff and council members, the pace of growth we are now again experiencing lets development seriously outpace the county’s ability to provide needed infrastructure and services to the new residents.

Read more ›

Horry County’s Election Year Budget

April 2, 2018 5:09 AM
Horry County’s Election Year Budget

Horry County Council’s recent budget workshop provided an interesting view into budget making in an election year.

County employees will receive what is being called a “three percent across the board merit raise.” In a countywide election, the county’s employees can account for thousands of votes including their families and friends.

In addition, ways to fund additional raises for public safety personnel are being considered. Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus has proposed an additional $1 per hour raise for all Level 1, 2 and 3 police officers, Sheriff’s deputies and detention officers, which, if approved, will bring their respective raise amount to nearly 10 percent across the board.

Lazarus also proposed an additional three percent across the board raise (six percent total) for firefighters and EMS personnel.

The proposed public safety raise percentages were billed as necessary for “retention” of personnel, but it is interesting this consideration only seems to come up every four years or so when the council chairman is up for re-election.

Even more interesting is the fact that this increase in the public safety budget will not add any additional personnel despite the growing population of the county, which causes an increased demand for services.

Council member Harold Worley proposed using some of the excess hospitality tax revenue that the county will begin experiencing next year, currently estimated at $40 million per year, for increasing the number of police and fire personnel. County council already passed an ordinance stipulating continued collection of full Hospitality Tax after Ride I bonds are paid off.

Lazarus, who wants to use that money for I-73 construction, was heard to utter “not going to happen” at Worley’s suggestion.

One only has to consider the nearly $12 million of excess Ride II tax collections that recently was used to purchase approximately 3,729 acres of swamp land under the guise of establishing a wetlands mitigation bank in the county. That purchase literally came out of nowhere with little explanation to full council before it was approved.

If council is unwilling to return those excess tax revenues to the citizens who paid them, it certainly seems those excesses would be better spent on items that benefit the largest number of citizens rather than on the wishes of a few at the top of county government. The voices of average citizens need to be heard.

Read more ›

NMB TDF Vote Today

March 5, 2018 6:30 AM
NMB TDF Vote Today

North Myrtle Beach voters will go to the polls tomorrow to decide whether a Tourism Development Fee will be instituted in the city.

I support the decision of the North Myrtle Beach City Council to allow this decision to be left up to the voters. Additionally, I support statements from council that, if passed, only the minimum TDF revenue required by law would be used for owner-occupied property tax relief with the majority of that revenue used to benefit all the citizens of the city with improved infrastructure.

The TDF was introduced to the state and this area in 2009. Since that time, it has been my opinion the TDF is used in Myrtle Beach to benefit the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, certain large business owners in that city and residents who live in high end homes.

The North Myrtle Beach approach is significantly different. The city is demonstrating it is not Myrtle Beach in the way TDF funds will be used if the referendum passes.

Since the recent North Myrtle Beach city council budget retreat, it appears city residents are in for some type of tax increase. A property tax increase of 2-3 mills was discussed by council at the retreat.

During presentations about the TDF, City Manager Mike Mahaney discussed the need to find a funding source to address parking problems around the city because public safety people are being tied up dealing with parking problems when they could be better utilized performing other duties.

If the TDF passes, city revenue from the fee could be the funding source for addressing parking problems, which would also benefit public safety by freeing personnel for other needs. Revenue for marketing North Myrtle Beach would be used to promote the North Myrtle Beach brand in order to maintain a strong economy in the city.

Mahaney said one mill of property tax brings in revenue of $375,000 to the city. Three mills, therefore, would bring the city an additional $1,125,000 in revenue for parking and other infrastructure.

Read more ›