Voters favor fire tax increase by 4 to 1 margin in light turnout – Coastal Observer


Voters favor fire tax increase by 4 to 1 margin in light turnout

Voters cast ballots in the fire station on Business 17.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to increase property taxes from 14 to 28 mills for the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District this week.

The vote was 2,102 for and 455 against.

Turnout among the 8,579 Georgetown County voters and 19,294 Horry County voters in the district was 9 percent.

A mill of property tax equals $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed value. For an owner-occupied home valued at $100,000, that would be $4. For a $100,000 commercial property, that would be $6.

Voters rejected a tax increase for the district in July 2019 by a 2-to-1 margin. That proposal faced opposition from the Friends of Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire and Rescue, whose founder, Tom Swatzel, raised concerns about the district’s finances.

This time, he was on board and helped campaign for the increase.

“This landslide victory shows that voters highly value a well-staffed and equipped fire district that can reliably respond to emergencies,” he said after seeing the results. “My thanks to the district voters and especially to firefighter Capt. Brad Bemis and all of the firefighters and EMS personnel who worked so hard on their days off for passage of the referendum.”

There was a line of voters at the headquarters station on Business 17 when firefighters and emergency medical workers began their shift on Tuesday. The four Murrells Inlet precincts were consolidated in the single polling place.

Joe and Cathy Petrucci were among the 50 voters who cast ballots in the first hour. They only became aware of the referendum because of the Vote Yes yard signs that popped up ahead of the vote.

“It only makes sense that the fire department needs more people,” given the growth in the area, Joe Petrucci said. He was a volunteer firefighter and chief in a department on New York’s Long Island.

The couple also knows a local firefighter and have heard about the overtime hours the staff puts in.

The fire district plans to use 7 mills of the approved increase to raise pay and staff a fourth ambulance. Overtime from staff shortages was among the factors affecting performance and morale cited in a 2022 study that the fire district board commissioned. The study also showed that on more than 200 occasions overlapping ambulance calls meant the district had to get help from neighboring departments to respond.

Cathy Petrucci wasn’t surprised. Her parents recently moved into the Magnolia Bridge senior living community. She regularly sees ambulances responding to the facility.

“People don’t want to pay more taxes,” she said.

“But the life you save may be your own,” her husband added.

Firefighters who watched the early voting said they were optimistic, but nervous. A few had seen online posts that were skeptical of the tax increase.

The additional 7 mills will be phased in to cover the cost of additional personnel.

The increase will be included in the tax bills that go out later this year.



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