Tax increase could come with growth in Horry County Schools

High Growth Areas acorss Horry County. (Source: HCS)
High Growth Areas acorss Horry County. (Source: HCS)

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County is growing and that means the Horry County School District must keep up with that growth.

Fueled by a bustling economy, the Horry County Schools Facilities Committee said the district has experienced a long period of sustained growth in grades K through 12.

Over the past 20 years, HCS has grown 2 percent per year on average, or 16,057 students.

The five-year capital improvement plan, while still a draft, aims at categorizing projects for consideration that address capacity and growth needs. Those include new school construction, additions or renovations, temporary classrooms, attendance zone changes, replacing facilities due to their condition, athletic facilities and more.

Ultimately, it is a $750 million wish list that HCS officials said is a balancing act and can't be done all at once. The finance department has made funding suggestions to board members, which are discussed during each school board meeting.

There are three funding options and the board must select one. They are a pay-as-you-go option, utilizing the current 8 percent debt capacity of $53 million, or requesting a bond referendum to help pay back the money over a 20-year period, which voters would pass.

"I was originally in favor of it going to the public," Horry County School Board Chairman Joe Defeo said. "I always think laws should be changed where the public votes on any kind of tax increases or changes in any major funding policies, but that's not the way the law reads."

Wanda Marshall is one Horry County school parent who isn't against an increase in her taxes.

"What we do today benefits tomorrow and if we are growing, people are coming here, people love Myrtle Beach and the schools must accommodate the growth," Marshall said. "If we have to go into our pockets via taxes, I am OK with that because a lot of people doing a little bit makes a big difference."

Defeo said he is against raising taxes and always has been. The board must have a majority vote to move forward with a plan.

According to Defeo, over the past eight years, the millage rate has been lowered from 28 to its current 10 mills. The school board could maintain that millage level or raise it to 12 or 14 mills.

Defeo said one mill is worth $4 per a $100,000 household, or $12 on a $300,000 home, and so forth.

Right now, the board is considering other solutions, like changing the attendance lines.

"I can't answer what we are going to do because it's going to take a while," Defeo said. "I tell board members when they first get on school board, you and five board members, you can't buy a pencil. You and seven board members, you're guaranteed, so it's going to be up to the majority of the board how we will proceed and we'll see how that goes."

As for Marshall, one thing she has noticed from the growth in the area is that the students at her daughter's school are more diverse.

"My daughter comes home speaking Spanish, Russian, Arabic, everything," she said. "So we're OK with the growth in the school systems because she learns a lot and other kids learn a lot about each other."

The five-year capital improvement plan predicts at least 22 of the Horry County schools will be at or above 100 percent capacity. Though South Carolina's average property tax rate is 0.57 percent, which is the fifth lowest in the United States, in order to keep up with the needs, a tax increase is an option.

Since the capital plan is still in preliminary discussions, a vote may not be taken until next fiscal year.

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