Area could be close to millage increase

  • Thursday, May 29, 2014

A nearly two-year journey that affects the pocketbooks of many Garden City Beach and Murrells Inlet residents is close to an end.

A request to lift the millage cap to fund the Murrells Inlet Garden City Beach Fire District squeaked through a second reading in the S.C. House of Representatives, 22-18 on Tuesday.

Rep. Nelson Hardwick, who has helped steer the Senate bill introduced by Sen. Ray Cleary and offered a companion bill in the House, voted in favor of the legislation, which still must pass a third reading – expected Wednesday -- before going to the governor for her signature.

Rep. Stephen Goldfinch voted against the bill. “I support the fire district and the brave people that work there,” said Goldfinch. “But in 2006, the fire district had a statutory mandate to roll back the millage. They didn’t do that. Their millage is already twice what the law allows.

“My vote is not against the firefighters. It is just a vote for the rule of law.”

Chief Norman Knight said he was pleased with the vote, and should the bill become law he is looking forward to implementing the plans for a new fire station.

Also happy with the passage of second reading was Al Hitchcock, chairman of the fire district.

The bill would allow the district to levy up to an additional four mills within the district, which spans Georgetown and Horry counties.

“I’m glad it passed second reading, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be that close,” Hitchcock said.

The district has been operating under a 10-mill cap since 1992. Because the millage rate was set by the General Assembly when the district was created, the lawmakers had to give approval to any change in the rate.

Hitchcock said that he intends to meet with officials in each county to actually set the rate, and that it was possible that the rate would differ in each county. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 in assessed valuation. Horry County is scheduled to undergo reassessment soon.

In pushing for the increased money, Hitchcock and the board had said the funds would pay for building and staffing a fourth district fire station, on McDowell Shortcut Road, which would help keep insurance rates steady within the district.

He said that were the district to impose the expected additional 2 or 2.5 mills, it would cost the average homeowner roughly $18 to $20 annually. People older than 65 would pay half that.

Insurers set community rates based on how close a fire station is to residential areas. The insurance rating agency is expected to review the area in 2015 and rates set then would exist for 10 years.

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