The $193.7 million Myrtle Beach budget doesn’t include a property tax increase but does include 10 more police officers.
The Myrtle Beach City Council gave the final approval for the 2020-21 fiscal year budget, which is about $7.8 million or 3.8% less than last year.
“This budget is a plan to get through a year in which we expect further economic damages from the COVID-19 pandemic,” City Manager John Pedersen wrote to city council. “In the long run, however, this budget is not sustainable.”
The challenges, said Michelle Shumpert of the city’s financial management and reporting office, is because of the uncertainty created around the coronavirus pandemic.
When businesses aren’t operating at full speed, she said, that translates into fewer taxes coming into the city and less revenue gained from water and sewer services.
But, she repeated, the city is not planning on cutting any services for residents and businesses while keeping the budget flexible. The flexibility will allow the city to avoid furloughs and pay cuts for city employees if the rest of the year normalizes.
The budget freezes salary increases and reduces overtime by about 2% for all employees. Since March, the city has tallied a savings of about $800,000 with a hiring freeze and not filling open positions.
The budget also eliminates the holiday bonuses for city employees, which is usually one week of pay.
The 10 new officers’ salary will be paid mostly from a $1.4 million federal grant to aid in community and intelligence-led policing. Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock said the grant will pay for the officers’ salary for three years at $648,000 annually with a 25% local match.
The city will also pay for two new police cars, training and equipment for the officers.
A few years ago, the city council vowed to support the police retention and recruitment plan of hiring 10 new officers a year for seven years.
Public safety, which includes the police and fire departments, account for 57%, or $48.3 million, of the general fund portion of the budget. The general fund is made of property taxes and business license fees.
Prock said in addition to the daily duties of policing a city with a ballooning summer population, this year has been fraught with dealing with national issues such as the pandemic.
And then there’s a movement to defund policing or restructure police forces with a heightened focus on social services.
“We are different, because we see so many visitors to the area, our average daily population is so much higher than our real population,” Mayor Brenda Bethune said. “We have to police for that. It’s very important we continue to fund our police department.”
Council member John Krajc asked Prock to let the officers facing difficult days and nights know that “everybody on this council, we’ve got your back.”
While the city did not set aside money for capital improvement projects through 2025, the council did adopt a baseline plan for infrastructure improvements.
The five-year plan includes $9 million to be used on items such as paving streets and improving sidewalks.
It also includes $8.6 million for the Boardwalk’s revitalization and an extension.