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Fire department will keep pressure on

  • Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire District board agreed June 23 it has its work cut out for it as it seeks to keep alive an attempt to raise its millage cap.

While it is keeping a backup plan in reserve, the group decided to keep the pressure on state House members to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of Sen. Ray Cleary’s bill that would allow the board to raise its millage cap to 14 mills from its current 10.

The Senate voted to override the veto on June 18, but the House adjourned without taking action.

“Because it was a Senate bill, they had to override it first,” explained Al Hitchcock, fire district chairman, who was in Columbia on June 17, hoping that the House would take action. “I felt like we had the votes in the House to override the veto,” he added.

He credited a full-court press of emails to lawmakers with giving the bill a second look and changing some minds in the process.

House Speaker Robert Harrell said that it was possible he would call the House back to deal with “unfinished business,” including the fire district bill.

Should that happen, Hitchcock promised that the board would be out in force.

Hitchcock said it’s important for the House to take action “sooner rather than later.”

“Maybe we should send our emails to one person,” he said.

Jerry Fancher, who lives in Murrells Inlet, urged the board to intensify its efforts to override the governor’s veto. “I would like to see someone from this board get up and pound the table, “ he said, “to show how important this is.”

Hitchcock did not disagree. “We’ve been jumping through the hoops for two years, they keep moving the hoops.”

Hitchcock and other board members said they were surprised when the governor vetoed Cleary’s bill, which she called a “backdoor attempt to raise taxes.”

Board members say they have no choice but to ask for additional funds. Because the district is a special purpose district, spanning two counties, it must look to the General Assembly for any increase in its millage rate.

The additional money is needed to staff and help build Fire Station 4 on McDowell Shortcut Road. A $500,000 grant from Horry County to build the station expires in mid 2017, but even more pressing is an expected visit from insurance ratings people whose determination affects the cost of homeowners insurance.

One of the determining factors in the ratings is how close residents are to the nearest fire station.

The district’s homeowners enjoy a 3 rating, but without the fourth station, that number could change for the worse.

The board has been hesitant to build the station without having the money to staff it. Even if the House override is held and is successful, it is possible, depending on when the vote is held, that the fire district would not see any funds from the increased millage rate for a year, because the county staff needs time to prepare tax notices.

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