Police and firefighters could be the highest paid in the state if the proposed budget passes in Myrtle Beach.
City leaders reviewed the proposed budget for fiscal year 2022-23 at the monthly workshop on Thursday. The budget has to undergo a public hearing and pass two votes before going into effect.
The proposed budget includes pay raises for all the city’s nearly 990 employees and a 10-mill property tax increase.
The city’s proposed budget, which comes in at $292 million, is spent mostly on public safety. There are 25 new police officer positions funded in addition to 22 other new positions spread across the city’s other departments from the sewer department to three people for right-of-way maintenance on the north end.
If approved, the city’s police will be getting a 12.18% pay bump, or about $6,446 annually. The city’s firefighters will be getting a 5.68% pay increase or about $3,710 annually.
“What we’re experiencing right now is something we’ve never seen before,” said City Manager Fox Simons, referring to increased inflation and competition with employee’s wages. “This does come at a cost.”
The cost line in the proposed budget is $5.8 million more than last year. That includes increased wages and benefits.
Overall, minimum wage goes from $12.71 to $15.75 or $26,436 to $32,760 annually.
Other than minimum wage employees, the city operates under three different pay grades – general, police department and fire department.
There are about 420 employees who fall under the general pay grade and each could be getting about 7% or $3,567 more annually.
The city recently conducted a wage and compensation study with other cities and city staff determined Myrtle Beach’s employees were underpaid. The city is abiding with the seven-year police recruitment and retention plan calling for 10 new officers annually. This year, Simons said, is the fifth year.
As of March, there are 48 police vacancies, said police spokesperson Tom Vest. He added on top of potentially becoming the highest paid officers in the state, the current operating budget allows for $4,000 relocation incentives and certified officers are eligible for a 10% pay increase.
“All of that together really incentivizes our agency and we’re all competing for the same pool of officers and this would give us a competitive edge,” Vest said.
The city recently received a $2.7 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to pay for the salary and benefits for a dozen new firefighters.
Mayor Brenda Bethune said the city faces challenges other similar size cities don’t face, such as an influx of a million tourists weekly in the summer.
“We unfairly get compared a lot to neighboring cities about our budget. And, there’s no comparison,” she said. “We may be a small city with a permanent population of 35,000 people but we are a very large city and operate as a very large city because of our average daily population being over 160,000.
“That’s what we have to budget for. We cannot budget for 35,000 people. That’s very unrealistic.”
Charleston leads the state with 150,227 permanent population followed by 136,632 in Columbia. Myrtle Beach doesn’t crack the top 10 in city population coming in at 13 below North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Rock Hill, Greenville, Summerville, Goose Creek, Sumter, Florence, Spartanburg and Hilton Head Island.
In addition to across-the-board salary increases, the proposed budget calls for increased parking fees. Currently on street oceanfront parking is $2 an hour and the budget calls for it to go up to $3 an hour. Parking from 6th Avenue North to 16th Avenue North may go from $1.75 hourly to $3 hourly. Parking from 29th Avenue North to 31st Avenue North may go from $1.50 hourly to $2 hourly. The weekly on-street passes may go from $30 to $50.
The 10-mill property tax increase means if a city resident owns and lives in a home valued at $250,000 their city taxes will go up $24 from $189 to $213 annually.
But city staff has proposed freezing the Tourism Development Fee (TDF) credit for residential properties. Owner-occupied taxpayers would still get a 67.45% credit on their property taxes, but if the freeze is approved the owner of a $250,000 accessed home would pay an additional $100 in taxes annually.
Simons said freezing the TDF credit is because residential construction is outpacing the TDF tax credit.
Mark Kruea, city spokesman, said property taxes account for 28% of the city’s total budget.
Michelle Shumpert, the city’s chief financial officer, said the city gets its water and sewer from Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority (GSWS) and those rates have increased more than 2.5%. She said it is necessary to pass along those increases to the city customers at 4% more for water and 5% more for sewer to allow for the city to pay for staff and equipment. The average increase a city customer will see on the monthly water bill will be about $2.58 from $55.04 to $57.62.
Shumpert added city residents could be seeing another increase on their monthly water and sewer bill from the city. The stormwater fees may be increasing 22% every year for five years. The average monthly stormwater fee is $7.63 and the increase sought is $1.67 more.
The operating and capital improvements for the coming fiscal year include $6.6 million at the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, $16.2 million for projects in the Arts and Innovation District and $7.9 million for stormwater projects.
The largest capital expanse is within the water and sewer department at $23.7 million that includes new pipes, waterlines, new meters and maintaining water tanks. The expenditures also reflect repairing and replacing water valves from the south end of the city to the north end.
What is not included in the operating and capital improvements budget is the Grand Strand Humane Society building off Mr. Joe White Avenue. The animals were relocated to a space at Tanger Outlets off U.S. 501 because of a rat infestation and deteriorating building conditions.
The proposed budget does not call for increases in business license fees, recreation fees or solid waste fees.
In addition to across-the-board salary increases, a residential tax hike and increased water and sewer rates, the proposed budget adds Juneteenth as a paid holiday and may include incentives for speaking foreign languages and American Sign Language that can aid in interpretation.
Simons said the council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the budget at the May 24 meeting. The public hearing and second vote will be taken on June 10. State law requires the city passes a budget by June 30, the day before the start of a new fiscal year.
The city council meetings begin with a workshop at 9 a.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month. The workshops are followed by the 10 a.m. regular council meetings with public comments and votes taken on proposed ordinances. The council meets at the Ted C. Collins Law Enforcement Center at 1101 North Oak St. in Myrtle Beach.