MURRELLS INLET, SC (News Release) – Friends of Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire and Rescue, a group campaigning for approval of the March 17th referendum that would raise the fire district's millage rate cap, Tuesday announced state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch's (R-Murrells Inlet) endorsement of passage of the referendum.
"I support allowing the voters to decide whether to raise the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District's millage cap. I applaud the district's Board of Directors for calling for the referendum and urge a 'yes' vote to pass the referendum," Rep. Stephen Goldfinch said.
"We're very pleased that Rep. Goldfinch supports passage of this important referendum that will financially ensure continued excellent fire protection and save property owners hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year on fire insurance premiums," Friends of MIGC Fire and Rescue Chairman Tom Swatzel said.
The referendum would increase the district's millage cap from 10 to 14 mills for additional fire protection and to build a new station in the Burgess area.
Last year, Goldfinch supported Gov. Nikki Haley's decision to veto legislation that would have raised the millage cap. In her veto message, Haley said "I have been clear that these types of local bills – that effectively and inevitably raise taxes on citizens – should first go to the citizens to be voted into law."
After the veto was sustained, the fire district's board decided to call for the referendum, which will be conducted by both the Georgetown and Horry County Boards of Elections since the district straddles the county line.
Last week, the district announced that it had received an improved Insurance Services Office or ISO Public Protection Classification of 2 that puts the district in the top 3 percent of fire departments nationally, increasing the likelihood of lower fire insurance rates for property owners. However, questions remain about the district's ability to continue to fund fire protection at such a high level in the face of mounting deficit spending.
According to estimates, the district will generate budget deficits totaling nearly $900,000 from 2013 through this year. Over the last three years fire response calls have grown by 42 percent.
The district's millage rate is one of the lowest in the state, ranking 51st out of the 61 fire districts. The average millage rate among all districts is 22.3 mills, more than twice that of the MIGC Fire District.
"It's clear the fire district cannot continue to fund the current high level of service with such a low millage rate in the face of skyrocketing fire response calls, lower growth and property values, and the need for a new station," Swatzel said. "The only way is for voters to approve the referendum, which in reality will save property owners money."
If the referendum is approved the maximum tax increase on an owner-occupied $232,500 home -- the median value in the district -- would be $37.20. Information provided by the district estimates fire insurance premium hikes of between $230 and $4,285 per year on the same home if the district's ISO rating worsens to a class 5 or 10 respectively.
Swatzel said his group is raising money and seeking volunteers for its campaign to pass the referendum.