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County Issues

Public Safety – Four years ago this council raised taxes 7.2 mills, an estimated $13.5 million per year, with the public being told that most of it would be going to police officers for pay raises and other needs to make the department more competitive so it could keep good officers. Four years later, public safety is still the number one issue for the county. We are being told that we can’t fill empty positions and have trouble keeping good police officers because their pay is too low. How was that money really spent?

Fire and EMS is another area of contention with a number of staff being subjected to long hours and low pay. Volunteer firemen, which this county relied on for many years to make up the numbers in the department, are on the decline.

Transparency – Too many decisions are being taken by a cabal of the administrator, county attorney and council chairman. The recent $12 million spent for swamp land, which they say is going to be a new land trust to use for wetlands credits for road projects, popped up out of nowhere with only one small discussion in executive session before it was approved by council vote. Who really benefited from this transaction, how did it originate, was the land subjected to an independent appraisal before it was purchased and who was in on the discussions with the former property owner? Why didn’t we hear about this in a committee meeting before the council vote and have some open discussion about it?

That cabal is the main reason we have the county being sued by the County Treasurer and by SkyDive Myrtle Beach. Too many things are being decided in the dark by the cabal to the detriment of the public and private business.

Stewardship of Tax Dollars – An in-depth study of how the county spends its tax dollars is needed. Some departments in county government generate fees that more than pay for their operation (Treasurer, Register of Deeds, Building Permits, Business Licenses for example) with the excess going into the general fund. In good years, like the present, those funds exceed budgeted projections. Where does that money go and why can’t it be used for public safety needs, for example, rather than some pet project, economic development ($1.6 million) springs to mind, that really isn’t needed?

In 1997, the county instituted the hospitality tax with a three reading ordinance. The tax is 2 percent on accommodations (this is separate from accommodations tax), prepared food, entertainment and the like. 1 percent countywide was designated to pay off Ride I bonds with the promise that tax would be dropped when Ride I bonds were paid off. Council voted to extend that tax beyond the time needed to pay off Ride I bonds (estimated to be by the end of 2081 or early 2019). That 1 percent brings in $38 million per year and council said it would decide how to spend it when the time came with discussion about using it for I-73. That simply is not good enough. The tax has been extended by ordinance already and the money will become a slush fund for council, much as the new slush fund for council members called “council community benefit funds”. Why can’t much of that $38 million per year be used to solve the current infrastructure and public safety needs of the county?

Communication – County council operates in a semi-vacuum from other countywide elected officials, city officials, school district officials and the like. A better system of communication, maybe a monthly or quarterly discussion group open to the public, could head off some of the contentious issues that led to the Treasurer’s lawsuit, the wrangling with the school district over who would pay for police officers in the schools, parking issues at the beach and so on, could be avoided with more discussion.

Citizens – Too often the citizens in the county feel like their government doesn’t listen to them or hear their needs. Carolina Forest issues with roads, population density and public safety needs are one example. The Red Bluff mine issue that citizens thought was settled, but is now coming back up for council discussion is another. Flooding problems in the Little River area is a third.

Monthly or quarterly open discussion forums with citizens (like town hall meetings that Congress is now holding) can at least bring a feeling that council and the community are acting together, not in opposition.

The Committee to Elect Johnny Gardner