Thursday, December 19, 2013
The Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire District Board of Directors is hoping a bill now in a state Senate committee will be passed, allowing them to avoid a possible district-wide fire insurance premium increase.
The bill, which would raise the millage cap set at 10 mills in 1992, would allow the board to raise the fire tax for the district.
With that money, along with a $500,000 grant from Horry County, they plan to build a new fire station on McDowell Shortcut Road in Horry County, which they say will help keep the district’s present ISO rating of 3. The board viewed renderings of the building inside and out at its regular meeting Monday evening.
The increase in fire taxes would be from $18 to $20 per year for most people and people over 65 would pay half of that, according to Sen. Ray Cleary (R-Murrells Inlet), who sponsored the Senate bill.
He said although the bill raises the millage by 10 mills, the language might be changed to raise the cap by three or four mills.
Al Hitchcock, chair of the fire district board, said they are asking for 10 mills so they don’t have to go back to the legislature in three or four years asking for another cap raise.
“We are only planning to raise the millage by 2.5 mils for 2015,” Hitchcock said. “It is not our intention to double fire taxes.”
Cleary said that if the bill is not passed, the Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire District will receive a lower rating in 2015 and insurance costs will go up $80 to $90 per year for most people.
Businesses in the district would see increases in their insurance rates as much as $1,200, he said.
“It doesn’t matter if you are five minutes away from a fire station or five miles away,” Cleary said.
“It doesn’t make sense not to do it.”
“We need more mills,” Hitchcock said. “Since the cap was last raised in 1992, property values have not increased very much, but our call volume has definitely increased.”
He said in addition to fire protection, the district also provides emergency ambulance service in Horry and Georgetown counties.
In fact, he said about 70 percent of their calls are emergency calls as opposed to fire calls.
State Rep. Nelson Hardwick (R-Surfside Beach), who represents the Horry County section of the fire district, has pre-filed a bill in the House of Representatives that mirrors the Senate bill.
“I support citizens being able to get decent fire insurance,” Hardwick said.
“It is not very complicated. Pay me now or pay me later, and pay me more later.
“I would rather the money be in my constituents’ pockets than going to the insurance companies.”
State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch (R-Pawleys Island), who represents the Georgetown County section of the fire district, is opposed to the millage cap increase.
He said Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire District is one of the healthiest districts in the state with over a $2 million surplus.
He said he has attended public meetings about the millage cap issue and he is not convinced that the ISO rating will go up.
“A lot of things might happen,” Goldfinch said. “Give me conclusive evidence that the ISO rating will go up if this millage cap increase is denied. Right now, it is a maybe and there is a lot of speculation built into that maybe. I am a guy who is all about numbers. If it makes sense financially, we’ll do it.”