Murrells Inlet-Garden City fire district to vote on budget deficit

The fire district is expected to approve its first deficit budget after a public hearing

MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) - A $177,000 shortfall could severely impact Murrells Inlet-Garden City emergency rescue services.

The fire district is expected to approve the budget deficit Monday after a public meeting. The major budget shortage could be devastating to residents and tourists, if residents do not vote for a millage increase referendum.

The district said it blames the deficit on many years of limited growth in the county, flat assessments, and rising costs. For example, salaries and workers comp are on the rise, but what the stations are bringing in just isn't making up for it. Another major expense this year that they need to plan for, they have to update their radio system to the tune of $80,000.

But they're not just penny-pinching their expenditures, they're working to find new ways to bring in additional income and get the district out of the red. They're pushing for a referendum to raise the millage cap from its current 10 mills to 14. This would result in about a $20 difference per year for the average homeowner. To put it in perspective, neighboring area millage rates are in the 20's. This referendum will go to a special vote in March.

The board is also asking Georgetown County for additional funds to cover a shortfall in costs for ambulance services. "And we're having to use some of our fire money to cover the ambulance," says Al Hitchcock, the fire district board chairman. "When we say we need a better deal with Georgetown county, if they would step up and give us the money that is needed to provide the service, that would take care of about half of the deficit."

While they are working in a deficit, you will not see any delay in response times. The budget deficit will allow the department to work at the level they are right now. And once they break even, then they will actually be able to build and open up a brand new fire station. With the current population plus the influx of tourists, a fourth station is necessary to adequately cover everyone.

If the deficit is not approved, if Georgetown County does not agree to help pay, and if you do not vote for the millage increase referendum, there will be drastic consequences. There could be longer response times, because they may have to cut to a barebones staff. "Major impact. That way we can continue the services that we've provided now, and not go backwards. Because you never want to go backwards in emergency services," says Hitchcock.

This budget deficit would be approved for one year. Board members are confident they will break even before the time frame is up.

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