With 93.5 percent of the vote, Murrells Inlet-Garden City Local 4940 – with support from the South Carolina Professional Fire Fighters Association (SPFFA) – passed a referendum to increase the mill cap for the special tax district from 10 mills to 14 mills. The money will help the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District Board build a new fire station to house a new fire truck and nine fire fighters.
“We are so pleased to have the overwhelming support of our citizens,” says Local 4940 President Billy Fancher. “They are the ones who will see the benefit. Because of the passage of this referendum, we will be able to provide them with better service.”
Currently, the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District (located near Myrtle Beach) has three fire stations, but needs a fourth in order to properly address the rise in fire and emergency medical calls (42 percent in the last three years). But to secure enough revenue to pay for the new station, new apparatus and personnel, the District needs to exceed the 10 mill cap.
South Carolina state law says tax districts can exceed their mill caps with approval from the legislature.
Accordingly, Senator Ray Cleary (R) proposed a bill that would increase the cap to 20 mills. The legislation was amended to only allow for a 14 mill cap. That bill eventually passed both houses and landed on Governor Nikki Haley’s desk. She immediately vetoed the bill.
“Our friends in the legislature tried to override her veto, but could not get the two-thirds vote needed,” says Fancher. “We were left with no choice but to take the issue to the voters by referendum.”
To educate the voters on the importance of passing the referendum, Local 4940, the SPFFA and the Friends of Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Rescue Citizens Group went door-to-door and used social media to get their message out.
“Our message focused on the service improvements that would result in the building of a new fire station,” says SPFFA 4th District Vice President Seth Holzopfel. “Even though it meant a few extra dollars out of their pockets, the fire district’s citizens really understood how passing this referendum was going to positively affect public safety.”
With the passage of this referendum, the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District Board has the option of raising the mill up to the 14 mill cap. However, how much the mill will increase has not been decided. The District Board must also decide when construction will begin on the new fire station.