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‘Still stunned,’ board will address millage

  • Thursday, September 4, 2014

The question of what is next for an effort to raise the cap on the Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire District millage is back in the lap of the district’s board of directors.

The state House of Representatives failed Aug. 27, to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill that would have given the district four mills more to run its fire and rescue service.

The district, formed in the mid-60s by the General Assembly, spans the northern part of Georgetown County, from just north of Brookgreen Gardens, and the southern end of Horry County, from Georgetown County to the Surfside Beach line.

It operated on five mills – a mill is equal to $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation – until 1994, when lawmakers approved a five mill increase in the cap. The bill to raise the cap, introduced by Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, sailed through the Senate and passed the House, but Haley vetoed the legislation, saying that it would be increasing taxes without a vote. The Senate overrode the veto, but the House adjourned in June without taking up the issue.

“This isn’t raising taxes,” said Cleary. “This is giving the board the right to do so if needed. There was no definitive tax increase unless there’s a need for it.”

He also questioned whether a state law that would have allowed the special district to hold a binding referendum would apply to the district board, which is appointed by the legislature.

“I’m going to ask the Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on that.”

Al Hitchcock, chairman of the fire district board, said he wasn’t sure what would be the next step for the board. He expects the board to take up the issue at its next meeting, Sept. 29.

“I’m still stunned,” he said, nearly a week after the veto override failed 58-49. A two-thirds majority was needed to override the governor.

Also surprised and disappointed by the vote was Bill Fancher, chairman of the Murrells Inlet Garden City Professional Firefighters Association.

“Unfortunately S293 did not get the override we needed. The Murrells Inlet Garden City Professional Firefighters Association pledges to work with the Board of Directors as well as our local elected officials to resolve this issue,” Fancher wrote in an email.

Haley on her Facebook page had urged lawmakers to sustain her veto, and then thanked them the day of the vote, singling out Reps. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet and fellow Republicans Rick Quinn and Todd Atwater of Lexington.

The three spoke in support of the veto.

“Thanks in particular to Representatives Goldfinch, Atwater, and Quinn for their fights today!” the governor wrote Aug. 27, on Facebook.

Goldfinch and Rep. Tracy Edge of North Myrtle Beach were the only local lawmakers to vote to sustain the governor’s veto.

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