Thursday, July 31, 2014
The question about raising the millage cap for the Murrells Inlet Garden City will not be on the November ballot.
The district’s board of directors decided July 28 to put the fate of the needed money in the hands of the legislature, which since the inception of the fire district has retained the responsibility of setting the millage rate.
“I recommend that we go with the hand we were dealt,” said George Oldryoyd, a fire district board member.
“I have absolute confidence in the people of the district backing us. I have no doubt whatsoever.”
District officials have been trying for two years to raise the 10-mill cap to 14 mills, although they have said they need only an additional 2 mills to build and staff a fourth fire station and maintain the level of service that district residents have come to expect.
During the 2013 General Assembly session, a bill to raise the cap 10 mills died in a House committee. This year, a similar bill, but with a 4-mill cap, passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley.
The Senate overrode the governor’s veto but the House adjourned without taking action. It is expected that the House will be called back into session to take up that override along with other, unfinished business.
In vetoing the bill, Haley said that she did not want to see taxes raised without a vote of the people. And the district officials had considered putting the issue on the November ballot.
But Al Hitchcock, board chairman, said that after consulting with local lawmakers, there were concerns that people were not aware of the issue, and turnout might decide the issue rather than people voting on its merits.
A decision whether or not to put the question to the voters in Horry and Georgetown counties had to be made even before district officials would know if the House overrode the governor’s veto.
If the millage question was to appear on the ballot in November, election officials would have to be notified by noon Aug. 15.
Moe Wells, a member of the fire district board, also favored leaving the decision in the hands of the General Assembly.
He said he had talked to Vita Miller, Democratic candidate for the the District 108 House of Representatives, and she indicated that if the referendum were to be defeated, it might hurt the fire district’s chances with the legislature.
Her opponent, Rep. Steven Goldfinch, voted against the millage cap increase in May, but earlier this summer offered to support the millage cap increase if restaurateurs along the Marsh Walk stop their Monday night fireworks displays.
Hitchcock, an owner of Drunken Jacks declined the offer.
Rep. Nelson Hardwick, who spearheaded the legislation through the House, has spoken with board members, and both Hitchock and Wells said that Hardwick was confident that the House would override the governor’s veto.
Even if that happens, it could be a year before district officials see any additional money from a millage increase. District officials authorized Hitchcock to tell the counties that the district rate will be 10 mills for this year.