There’s no such thing as a free city.
It may seem obvious to say this, but after a report from a Carolina Forest Civic Association committee inaccurately described the process of collecting and distributing taxes, we feel compelled to set the record straight.
The report stated that if Carolina Forest chose to incorporate, millions of dollars that had been flowing into county coffers would suddenly belong to the new city of Carolina Forest. The committee went so far as to say the community could incorporate without a tax increase.
That is simply not true.
There are standard county taxes that property owners pay, regardless of whether they live in Green Sea, Myrtle Beach, Conway or Carolina Forest.
The only way the county would lose a single dime is if the city of Carolina Forest decided it didn’t want county fire protection or waste removal service. Should that happen, the new city would be forced to find a way to address those needs and provide the other services residents want with the same small pot of money.
We question why those on the committee would think this is a good idea when their own survey of local residents found that most locals are pleased with the county fire service.
As for police protection, which is often a source of criticism in The Forest, if the residents created a city police department, they would actually pay for two law enforcement agencies — Horry County’s and the new city’s — yet they would receive service from only one.
That’s an unfortunate condition Conway, Myrtle Beach and other municipal residents in the county understand. They are paying for a municipal police department and subsidizing the HCPD, which, if The Forest became a city, would shift county officers out of the new municipality to serve the unincorporated areas.
The committee report also includes incorrect information about the limits of special tax districts. After questions from the Chronicle, the report’s author, Fred Crosby, acknowledged the document incorrectly described what those districts can legally accomplish and he agreed they could be a viable option for the community. The original report said that was not the case.
One of our biggest concerns about the research is that it focused on the 29579 zip code, a vast area that includes communities other than what is generally considered Carolina Forest.
Those neighborhoods, particularly Forestbrook, have not publicly expressed an interest in incorporating with The Forest.
Crosby acknowledged the only reason the committee used data from the zip code is because it was readily available and more specific numbers were not.
The problem is the zip code doesn’t give an accurate depiction of what the community would look like or the tax revenue it would generate. The county’s planning department considers Carolina Forest to be a much smaller area, and the land development agreement for the community covers a space even smaller than that.
Including data from the entire zip code just inflates the new city’s estimated tax base. It’s kind of like looking at Horry County population estimates to determine how many people live in Conway. The research will provide data, but the numbers won’t answer the original question.
Despite the report’s flaws, it does have some value. It includes a survey of some 800 residents and that research offers a glimpse into their concerns. Most notably, the survey shows how divided the community is when it comes to incorporation.
About 37 percent of those surveyed support Carolina Forest becoming a city, 38 percent oppose it and 25 percent are undecided.
This is important because if there’s not a clear majority of people who want the area to incorporate, why should the process even be pursued?
We appreciate the effort the committee put into this project. We also applaud Crosby for owning up to the mistakes and trying to correct the errors. He said he wants the public to have the most accurate information and we agree with him on that point.
But it’s important that residents understand they will pay more in taxes if they want to become a city. How much would depend on the services they desire, but it’s unrealistic to believe such a large municipal population could be served with such a tiny budget.
Keep in mind, we’re not saying Carolina Forest should never incorporate. There is a benefit in a community choosing its own destiny and determining the level of governmental services its residents need.
Unfortunately, there is no way to create a functional city from scratch and keep taxes at the same level. Crosby has said the new city wouldn’t have the funding to improve local roads, but just the start-up costs alone would include buildings, police cars and fire trucks. And then there are the people needed to occupy those facilities and vehicles.
For a point of reference, consider that the committee’s initial budget estimate is about $17 million (which also assumes the zip code’s tax base). That would be the budget for the most populated city in the county. Conway, which is smaller than Carolina Forest, has an annual budget of just over $36 million.
We want the local residents to be engaged in this discussion. We also want them to understand the ramifications of their decisions.
Incorporation is an option, but it won’t be easy and it certainly won’t come without an additional cost to residents.