Millage increase bill awaits Haley’s signature

  • Thursday, June 5, 2014

The fate of a fourth fire station in the Murrells Inlet Garden City Beach Fire District is awaiting one important signature – that of Gov. Nikki Haley.

A bill to raise the millage cap from 10 mills to 14 mills passed the South Carolina House of Representatives by a voice vote May 29 and was sent to the governor’s desk. By law, she has five days to sign it, not sign it or veto it.

Whether she signs the legislation or not, the bill would become law.

If she vetoes the bill, it would go back to the legislature for a possible veto override vote.

While the General Assembly approved the bill, the Governor’s Office on Monday requested additional information, which the district immediately provided.

Raising the cap 2 or 2.5 mills – the amount the district officials have said they would implement would bring in an expected $400,000 to $425,000, enough to support a two-person 24/7 staffing for the fourth fire station, on McDowell Shortcut Road, said Al Hitchcock, the fire district chairman.

The district has a $500,000 grant from Horry County to build the station, which Hitchcock said would cost about $950,000 to $1 million.

“We are doing this right,” said Hitchcock about the funding to build the station. He said the district intends to commit about $300,000 of its funds that have been set aside for the construction and would carry a mortgage on the remainder of the construction costs.

“We are not going to burden our children and grandchildren with a bond issue,” he said.

Hitchcock and his board had enlisted local support in 2013 with a series of community meetings explaining why the fire district officials felt the millage cap raise was justified. He cited the change in population as well as the changing face of district personnel.

“When the district was created, the personnel were primarily firefighters,” he said. “They’ve since added paramedic duties.”

The bill has had a difficult time getting through the House, although the Senate has twice given its approval. After not making it to the floor in 2013, the bill was prefiled by Sen. Ray Cleary, in 2014.

It sailed through the Senate on Feb. 6, 20-3 by a roll call vote for second reading and was passed by a voice vote Feb. 18 and sent to the House, where it was approved 22-18 on second reading on May 27, and by a voice vote on May 28.

“The bill was considered a local bill. Many legislators do not like to vote on bills that do not affect their districts,” said Rep. Nelson Hardwick, who steered the bill through the lower chamber.

“Others have signed no tax pledges therefore that have committed to vote no for any bills that include any tax increase.”

Among those who have signed the commitment not to raise taxes is Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, who represents Murrells Inlet. Goldfinch voted against the bill.

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