Friday, June 6, 2014
Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have allowed the Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire District to increase its available millage rate from 10 to 14 mills.
On her Facebook page, the governor said that “I have vetoed S293, a bill by Sen. Cleary that will allow a fire dist to increase taxes without voter approval setting a precedent for other dists to do the same. Pls contact your Senator and tell them that you expect them to vote NO. I am not opposed to the needs of a fire district, however I don’t believe in backdoor approaches to raising taxes. Taxpayers have the right to know. Thank you!”
Cleary’s bill, which was approved by the Senate by a 20-3 roll call vote Feb. 6 and sent to the House after voice vote, Feb. 18, would have expanded the state-mandated millage cap from 10 mills – set when the district was founded in 1966 to 14.
A mill equals $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.
The House approved the measure 22-18 May 27 and by a voice vote May 28.
“I feel like someone hit me in the gut,” said Al Hitchcock, chairman of the fire district. Hitchcock and the board members had held a series of public meetings to explain the need for the increase in millage, which, he said, had to be approved by the legislature.
During those meetings, held in 2013, support seemed overwhelming for the millage increase. Funds would have been used to build and staff a fourth station, on McDowell Shortcut Road.
Hitchcock said that while he is disappointed by the governor’s veto, it will not affect fire and emergency medical services.
“If there is a fire, and people call 911, we will still answer,” he said.
Cleary said he thought the governor may have confused the district’s issue with that of Florence-Darlington, which is planning a district vote to create a district and elect a board.
“We – Murrells Inlet Garden City – did that,” Cleary said.
“To hold a referendum to raise the millage, we would have to redo the board and reconstitute the district.”
Hitchcock said he was undecided about the next step, but was not hopeful of an override.
“We think we might get it through the Senate, but not the House,” he said.
An override requires a 2/3 override vote in both the House and the Senate.
The governor is enjoying nearly a 10-to-1 approval of her action on her Facebook page, but among those voicing opposition was Bill Fancher, president of the Murrells Inlet Garden City Professional Firefighters Association.
“The members of Murrells Inlet Garden City Professional Firefighters Association are truly disappointed with Governor Haley’s decision to veto Senate Bill 293,” he posted.
He cited a public hearing held April 29, 2013, where there was overwhelming support for the millage cap lift.