By Viraj Naik
Myrtle Beach Herald
Voters will decide this summer whether to shell out more property tax money for the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District.
The Georgetown County Elections Board last week approved the referendum, which will take place on July 24, said Georgetown County elections and voter registration office director Donna Mahn.
The vote will take place at eight precincts in Horry County and four in Georgetown County, officials said.
Formed in 1966, the fire district is a special tax district that provides service to parts of the south end of Horry County and portions of northern Georgetown County.
The proposed increase would up the fire district’s millage cap from 14 mills to 20 mills over four years, said George Oldroyd, a member of the district’s board of directors.
The district will pick up the costs for the special election, Oldroyd said.
The cap would rise by four mills in 2019 if voters decide on the increase, according to the resolution from the board proposing it. In 2021, the cap would increase by one mill and the cap would up another mill in 2022.
If the referendum were to pass, Oldyroyd said the extra funds would go toward increased manpower as well as the district’s apparatus and equipment.
The resolution cites “tremendous growth” in the Murrells Inlet-Garden City area, including “additional nursing homes, assisted living facilities, a hospital and other medical related facilities which all increase the need for additional manpower and time requirements for response.”
According to information provided by the agency's board based on census tract data, members estimate the district's population has grown from roughly 15,000 to approximately 29,000 from 2000 to 2015. Residents 62 years old and over are estimated to have grown from about 5,000 to around 12,000 over the same 15-year stretch, based on the board's findings.
Board members also highlight an aging population in the district and say it needs additional paramedics in order to provide adequate services to residents and visitors.
The district is, as of now, short two firefighter/paramedics and one firefighter/EMT, according to Oldroyd, and has struggled to fill the vacancies of those positions, currently filling the need through overtime.
“We must be competitive with salary and benefits compared to surrounding departments,” the resolution reads. "This will allow Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District to hire and retain the best staffing possible."
Leaders see the need for an additional ambulance “in the very near future” and say there has been a marked increase in medical-related calls, the resolution stated.
“The number of calls is a big factor,” Oldroyd said. “That’s one of the things that helps identify the need.”
The district had 3,957 calls come in 2017, board members said, with 1,847 of those being fire calls.
The resolution says the remaining 2,110 medical calls is a “substantial increase” compared to previous years’ figures.
“We expect that trend to continue,” Oldroyd said, adding the district has responded to 32-percent more medical calls over the past two years.
The resolution mentions the district transported the second most trauma patients to Grand Strand Medical Center last year and that the hospital lies 22 mile outside of the district, which leads to “higher cost and time out of the district for ambulance service.”
“We have an increasing number of patients who need to go all the way to Grand Strand Medical Center due to it being a Level 1 trauma center,” Oldroyd explained.
He added that because of the time it takes to get back and forth from the hospital, a burden is placed on the remaining fleet.
To maintain the agency’s current ISO rating of 2, the resolution contends, the district must "purchase and/or replace “aging fire equipment and apparatus" as well as maintain the district’s four stations.
The resolution also highlights employees’ health insurance and retirement cost rising annually.
In 2014, then-S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed legislation which would have raised the district’s millage cap from 10 to 14 mills, myhorrynews.com news partner WMBF News reported. The year following, a referendum was held where voters approved the millage cap increase.
In recent years, the district has had to deal with the rising costs of things like fuel as well as in the buying and maintaining of its apparatus, Oldroyd said.
He stressed, though, the district can still impose impact fees to incoming developers which can be used for the purchase of apparatus and the buildings that house them.
Right now, the district has 60 full-time employees, Oldroyd said, and also enlists the help of volunteer firefighters. Its ambulances are each staffed with a firefighter/paramedic and a firefighter/EMT.
On a daily basis, the district has three fire engines, a ladder truck and three ambulances it can deploy, said Chief Norman Knight.
"All of those units are staffed with personnel," he said, adding the district also has smaller vehicles and reserve units that can be used.
The district covers approximately 25 square miles, Knight said, with 60 percent of its area of coverage being in Horry County. Two of the district's stations are in Horry County with the other two in Georgetown County.
The agency receives mutual aid in the northern part of the district from Horry County Fire Rescue and in its southern region from Midway Fire Rescue.
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