By Ruben Lowman
North Myrtle Beach City Council unanimously approved the first reading of a $89 million amended budget on Tuesday that raises property taxes within city limits. The proposed budget would cut a little over $30 million in major projects and carry a tax increase of 7.9 mils, bringing the city’s rate to 45 mils.
At a workshop last week Councilman-at-large Hank Thomas was the only member to voice opposition to the proposed increase, saying he was concerned about the impact it would have on businesses and second homeowners. After deliberating with the rest of the council this week, Thomas reluctantly agreed to support the measure because of the high volume of major projects lined up by the city right now.
“I’m not that crazy about a tax increase right now,” Thomas said. “My preference would be not to do it. However, we do have a lot of big projects on the drawing board so I’m reluctantly going to support the increase.”
He went on to say that the council could look at modifying the increase in the fall if the city’s residents and businesses continue to lose revenue and income due to the pandemic and social distancing restrictions.
Mayor Marilyn Hatley commended Thomas for understanding the difficulties the city has faced and making the pragmatic decision.
“Thank you councilman and I appreciate your thoughts on that,” Hatley said. “I agree with you as far as it’s never pleasant to raise taxes. I wish we did not have to do that. But our city has always been good about lowering our taxes.”
The proposed millage rate increase would work out to $79 more on a $250,000 primary residence home. For a nonresidential property there would be an increase of 50% more, or roughly $119 in total on a property worth $250,000.
The proposed budget would shelve several capital projects until a later date, possibly the fall, when more is known about the city’s revenue during the summer. City spokesperson Pat Dowling said North Myrtle Beach has already lost $2 million due to COVID-19 and could possibly lose another $4 million by the fall.
Councilman-at-large Bob Cavanaugh explained that the proposed plans for the Park & Sports Complex are part of a longer strategy, something the city has always followed through with.
“For clarity sake I would emphasize this is part of a two-year plan for the extension of the park. This is a necessary commitment to a long-term plan and we’ve always met those long-term plans,” Cavanaugh said.
The proposed plans for the $25 million expansion of the Park & Sports Complex include several amenities designed to offer something different to visitors and significantly increase revenue. The plans will now be put on hold, along with the 18th Avenue North Ocean outfall, an Emergency Operations Center and Data Management Center, and smaller stormwater and drainage projects. The city also had to freeze 41 full-time vacant and potential employees, after furloughing nearly 190 individuals when the pandemic first hit in March.
Councilman Fred Coyne sided with Thomas in being conflicted about the increase, but ultimately felt that the city has no choice given the current circumstances.
“It’s just tough times and tough decisions. I’m with Mr. Thomas on this,” Coyne said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. We just got to do it to move forward and set ourselves up for the future.”
The mayor concluded the meeting by saying, “I think it’s a good budget. It’s a very tight budget. We have lowered it considerably, around $30 million.”
She thanked the department heads for evaluating the areas where they need to trim expenditures and being able to make the difficult decisions to enable the city to continue to operate soundly.
The second and final reading of the proposed budget will be held on Monday, June 29, at 7 p.m. inside City Hall.