No tax increase proposed at first day of Myrtle Beach budget retreat

No tax increase proposed at first day of Myrtle Beach budget retreat

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - People living in the city of Myrtle Beach shouldn't have to worry about seeing a higher number on their property tax bills next year.

The Myrtle Beach city manager's proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 has no millage or business license fee increases. Storm water and solid waste fees should also stay the same.

The only rate increase to the budget, if approved as is, would be to water and sewer rates. They would climb between 2.5 percent and 2.8 percent, depending on usage. For the average user, it would be an extra $1.23 a month.

Additionally, the city manager proposed giving staff members a merit-based pay raise up to 5 percent.

All staff members could also get 0.3 percent raise to account for the possibility the state legislature may pass bills requiring a higher retirement contribution.

To help fund changes to the 2018 fiscal year budget, the city increased its estimated revenue from business license fees, which have been strong, Myrtle Beach Chief Financial Officer Mike Shelton said.

"The increase in the number of businesses licensed from that time last year to that time this year was a 6 percent increase," he said. "Every little bit helps."

Approximately 9,018 businesses were licensed in Myrtle Beach in January 2016. In January 2017, 9,558 businesses had licenses.

Construction activity also continues to rise after the major drop during the recession.

Then there is public safety, always a major component of the city's budget. The Myrtle Beach Police Department has asked for funding for several improvements.

"We want to be able to provide a safer beach. We see some things that we want to increase," Chief Warren Gall said. "We want to do some more community service opportunities down there. We want to be more community policing-oriented down on the beach because it's no different. It's just a piece of our city."

Gall has asked the city to fund overtime pay to put off-duty officers out on the beach June through August, from Thursday to Sunday. He also wants another jet ski and a small patrol boat so officers can actually use them to patrol from the water, even when emergencies aren't going on.

"The people go out in the ocean and they're here on vacation, so I don't think a lot of them really understand the danger of going into the ocean if you're not prepared," Gall said. "Look up, see a beach patrol boat go by or beach patrol jet ski and see that you're getting out a little too far, we'll go up and talk to you about it."

Other beach safety service improvements include more social media outreach and public education, and a lost child program to minimize the time from when a child gets lots to when the child is reunited with family.

The MBPD also wants more eyes all over the city.

"Police departments are reactive. That's just the nature of the beast. We don't have enough bodies to be out there everywhere," Gall said. "We're trying to promote being more proactive by having officers who are able to monitor things that are going on real time."

The department proposed creating a real-time crime unit made up of two real-time crime technicians who will keep watch over the city's camera surveillance system and license plate reader.

Those technicians will be able to give officers as much information as possible when they're headed to a call.

"So they have a better understanding of what they're getting ready to get into," Chief Gall said. "Or if a crime happens and somebody is on the run and moving from point A to point B, they're going to be able to monitor that over the camera system."

Those real-time crime technicians would also oversee programs to help the police department get even more surveillance footage beyond the city's camera system.

Gall said the MBPD is already in the process of talking to major businesses, such as Broadway at the Beach and Coastal Grand Mall, about having a direct feed of their web-based cameras stream into the department.

He has also proposed having individuals and businesses with surveillance cameras on their properties sign up for a registry, so police already know where cameras are located that could be helpful if a crime happens nearby.

Those cameras would not be streamed, according to Gall, and police would ask for the footage as needed.

Myrtle Beach's budget retreat continues Wednesday.

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