Horry County Council considers property tax increase as emergency calls hit record highs

Horry County Council considers property tax increase as emergency calls hit record highs

CONWAY, S.C. (WMBF) - Property taxes in Horry County could be on the rise, but it’s all in an effort to keep people safer.

It’s because the call volume for both Horry County Fire Rescue and the Horry County Police Department hit record numbers in 2020.

But those call numbers continue to climb, and it’s not even the thick of tourism season yet.

The county council hasn’t decided anything yet, but several members feel they need to boost law enforcement funding before it gets to be too much.

“In 2020, we had 121,368 calls for service,” said Horry County Police Deputy Chief Lance Winburn during a Horry County Public Safety Committee meeting.

Winburn said the department has 275 sworn officers to handle that ever-growing call volume.

He explained HCPD patrols 94% of the county, while the other seven municipalities combined handle 6%, which leaves them with 1,200 square miles with about 37 patrol officers on any given shift. That works out to be about 30 square miles per officer, with the call volume constantly rising.

“I don’t want this to come across as a complaint,” said Winburn. “I really see it as, sort of, patting ourselves on the back.”

Horry County Fire Chief Joseph Tanner echoed that sentiment, saying this has been the busiest “down season” his department has ever seen.

“This is where we normally run 160, 150 calls a day,” said Tanner. “We’re now averaging 200 plus calls a day.”

Tanner said despite a pandemic slowdown, 2020 wound up setting a record for the number of calls they received.

Horry County Council District 2 Representative Bill Howard believes his constituents would be willing to pay to make sure both departments have enough staff to keep people safe.

“I don’t know what’s holding us back,” said Howard. “Is it the county council? We need to do something about this and be ‘The best.’ Not, ‘We’re getting there.’”

Howard threw out the idea of a small property tax increase, which he considers a small price to pay for safety.

He said he plans to bring that up during budget discussions, but Winburn explained that funding is only one part of the recruitment puzzle.

“You’re recruiting as hard as you can to get folks in and convince them to wear a ballistic vest and gun and go out in society after watching the news,” said Winburn. “It’s getting harder and harder to do that.”

Winburn said the department has 11 vacancies at the moment, but he’s hopeful the next class of officers helps fill the void.

“I think it’s 24 officers we figured out will be in Columbia at one time, so we’re working really well with recruiting some folks,” said Winburn.

Horry County Police Chief Joseph Hill added another recruitment roadblock is that the academy in Columbia is doing smaller class sizes because of the pandemic, which has stretched out the training time frame even more.

Hill isn’t opposed to the idea to create a regional academy, potentially through one of the technical colleges in the area.

“The academy has a team, a remote training team that’s easy to assemble,” said Hill. “They could oversee the curriculum at these technical colleges to ensure the quality.”

Hill said one thing that’s helped is the academy is letting each department do the first four weeks of training in-house before sending them to Columbia.

That means only eight weeks have to be done at the academy in Columbia, so they can rotate groups through more efficiently.

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