House upholds Murrells Inlet-Garden City millage veto

  • Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The S.C. House of Representatives voted twice Aug. 27 to sustain Gov. Nikki Haley's veto of a bill to allow the Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire District to raise its millage cap to 14 mills from the current 10.

An initial vote was 59-53 to sustain the veto, but the lawmakers approved a motion to reconsider 52-46. The reconsideration required a simple majority, but to override the veto required a two-thirds vote of those present.

That second vote also upheld the governor's action, 58-49.

Fire Chief Norman Knight deferred comments on the bill to the fire district board and its chairman, Al Hitchock.

Hitchcock, who had expressed optimism going into Wednesday's special session of the House, was disappointed at the outcome.

“We keep going through the hoops that they ask us to, but they keep moving the hoops,” he said.

One of the hoops was a contention by the Governor's Office that raising the cap would be raising taxes without the consent of the fire district's residents.

In fact, on Haley's Facebook page, she praised lawmakers for sustaining the veto.

The governor said the bill would have allowed an unelected board to raise property taxes without a referendum.

Fire district officials had considered a nonbinding referendum – to the best of their knowledge any vote would be nonbinding – but rejected that in favor of the potential override.

But Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, said that the fire district vote would have been binding under terms of a state law.

Sen. Ray Cleary, who introduced the Senate bill on the behest of the district officials, said he was not sure the law applies to a special district and intends to ask the Attorney General's Office for an opinion.

He also said he was disappointed by the governor's actions.

“The bill was introduced a year ago. The only time we heard from the governor was when she said she intended to veto the bill,” Cleary said.

Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, who voted to sustain the veto, said he met with the governor on Wednesday and she proposed a solution that would have allowed the district to raise its millage cap upon approval by the voters.

“They chose to go around the people and do it with the politicians in Columbia that don't represent the people in Murrells Inlet and Garden City,” Goldfinch added.

“I have a lot of respect for Al and his board, but strategically they were given bad advice and it failed them today.”

Goldfinch iterated his support for firefighters.

“I want nothing more to make sure they are kept safe and protected, but this legislation has nothing to do with firemen.

“This legislation would have set a precedent to allow unelected boards to raise taxes in their areas without the say of the people. That's the governor's position as well.”

Rep. Nelson Hardwick, too, was disappointed by the vote.

“It's been a long day and a disappointing day. The fire district and their attorneys will pull it out and look at it and make their decision,” he said.

Hardwick had chaperoned Cleary's bill through the House.

“It went through hearings in the House and hearings in the Senate, and we never heard there was a problem,” he said.

“If these type of districts cause her pain, she could have put something in her state of the state or talked to us about it.”

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