HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The county budget for fiscal year 2018 has cleared its first hurdle on the way to being passed, as the Horry County Council approved it during Thursday's budget retreat.
It will now go back to full council for two more readings and public comment before formal adoption.
The budget that passed first reading Thursday included two amendments. The first was taking out a line item for $200,000 that would go to the city of Myrtle Beach to help fund its new children's museum, proposed by Councilman Dennis DiSabato. Council approved it unanimously
DiSabato also made a motion, which council members ultimately approved, for an additional amendment requiring that the county's $35,000 annual funding for Chapin Memorial Library be contingent on Horry County residents being able to use it for free.
Right now, Chairman Mark Lazarus said people living in the county outside city limits don't get a free library card at the city library, while Myrtle Beach residents do get library cards for free at county libraries.
In an interview, Lazarus also brought up another issue.
"The citizens that buy the $100 placard or parking ticket can't park in all the metered spaces that a citizen of Myrtle Beach can," Lazarus said. "A little discrepancy there and some conversation continuing."
Councilman Johnny Vaught, who represents Horry County Council District 8, agreed.
"I don't think it's fair for us to subsidize them if they're not willing to work with us," he said.
Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokesperson, said the county has been contributing $200,000 a year for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans stadium and that gets paid off in fiscal year 2018, so the idea was for the money to go to the children's museum instead.
Lazarus said the funding would be from hospitality funds. He added those funds cannot be used for the new library, so the proposal was to use them for the children's museum.
Another discussion item that came out of the budget retreat was DiSabato making a motion to defund the county's school resource officer program in its entirety and put officers on the streets instead of in the schools.
Councilman Gary Loftus felt the motion was premature, while Lazarus said he likes the way the program is set up within the proposed budget, which makes a change for the way the program is currently funded.
Right now, Horry County pays for half of the cost of having school resource officers in county schools and Horry County Schools then pays the other half.
However, Horry County leaders said they're not getting a 50 percent return on their investment.
Lazarus said the county only gets 10 percent of that officer's work, such as over the summer when they don't have to be in the schools.
That's why the county's proposed budget changes the funding structure to have Horry County pay 10 percent of the cost for school resource officers and Horry County Schools pay the other 90 percent.
"We're not advocating that our police shouldn't be there, but at the same time what should be fair and equitable and who pays for what," Lazarus said.
According to the chairman, the county made an effort this year to go after people claiming to be part of the property tax bracket for residents when those properties are actually vacation homes, which require higher property taxes.
Lazarus said this effort will bring an extra $1.6 million in property taxes to the school district.
If this funding change ends up passing three readings by county council, then Lazarus said it will ultimately be up to the school district as to how it handles paying 90 percent.
He added that the district could look at other options and then that could free up officers to be on patrol instead.
Lazarus appreciated that DiSabato made the motion to defund the SRO program entirely, while the chairman also said the county is not trying to send the message that they're going to disband it.
The motion regarding the SRO program was ultimately withdrawn. However, the topic will be discussed at the next Horry County Public Safety Committee Meeting on April 11.
Teal Britton, spokesperson for Horry County Schools, issued the following statement:
"The school district has had a long and successful 50-50 partnership with the Horry County Police Department to provide school resource officers in schools that are not served by municipal police departments. The Horry County Police Department's recent request for the school district to increase its share of funding for the Horry County Police Department's School Resource Officer Program will be part of the school district's 2017-18 budget development conversations taking place now through June."