THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Murrells Inlet: Goldfinch proposes deal on fireworks and fire tax
By Jason Lesley
Rep. Stephen Goldfinch offered Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk restaurant owners a compromise: Stop their weekly fireworks shows and he will drop his opposition to a millage increase for the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District.
The restaurant owners rejected the deal that would limit fireworks to Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day, according to Drunken Jack’s co-owner Al Hitchcock, even though most of them live in the fire district.
Goldfinch said he heard from hundreds of constituents on both issues and decided to offer a compromise. “The inlet gets its increase in fire funding in exchange for fewer fireworks shows, which no doubt will lower the risk of fire damage, nuisance of noise and environmental harm for our citizens,” he said in a news release.
“In the end, neither I, nor businesses on the Marsh Walk, nor citizens groups concerned about the nuisance of the fireworks will get everything we want. But this is a good deal that tries to find the commonsense middle ground on two very contentious issues.”
Hitchcock said members of the Marsh Walk Restaurant Association signed a 10-week contract with Zambelli Fireworks.
“I don’t call the shots on the fireworks,” Hitchcock said. “I’m just one vote out of seven. The others were not willing to go along with it. Would I do it? Yes. I know the need for the fire department more than others. They didn’t want to do the deal.”
Hitchcock is chairman of the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District board of directors. The fire district was created by state law in 1966, and an increase in its top tax rate requires approval of the legislature.
The fire district currently has three stations, and it wants to build a fourth to serve a portion of Horry County along Highway 707. The district has the money for the building but is concerned about the annual cost of operating the station (estimated at $380,000 to $425,000) with its current tax rate.
State Sen. Ray Cleary proposed a bill to allow the rate cap to rise from 10 to 20 mills. (A mill equals $1 in tax for every $1,000 in taxable value.) The actual rate would be set by the six-member board of the fire district. Goldfinch said voting for the increase would have violated the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, drafted by Americans for Tax Reform, that he signed as a candidate.
Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the millage increase. The Senate voted to override her veto, but the measure didn’t come up in the House before it recessed for the summer.
“We overrode the veto in the Senate,” Clary said, “because common sense prevailed. It makes no sense to see your insurance go up $90 to $100 for 10 years when you could put in a millage increase that would cost you $15. The governor wants people to vote on it. What we tried to tell the governor was that people voted on it in 1966 and it has worked extremely well for 40 years. All the homeowner meetings we had, everybody endorsed it. The only reason Mr. Goldfinch hasn’t endorsed it was he made his tax pledge.”
Vida Miller, Goldfinch’s Democratic opponent for the House District 108 seat in November, said the fireworks and fire district millage are separate issues. “This is not a compromise” she said. “This is not leadership. Each of these issues deserve to be considered individually on its own merit.”
Hitchcock was in Columbia two weeks ago, looking for support for the fire district. “I think we have the votes in the House to override the veto,” he said. “It depends on who shows up for the special session.”
Cleary said the House needs to act because the fire insurance rating agents are due in August. “If the bill passes before they come, even by Labor Day, the ISO rating people will sign off on it. It’s real important it gets done this summer.”