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$1.8M deficit leads S.C. town officials to consider giving FD to county

The Surfside Beach Town Council faces two options that will lead to increased taxes


Surfside Beach fire apparatus.

Surfside Beach Fire Department/Facebook

By Emalyn Muzzy
The Sun News

SURFSIDE BEACH, S.C. — With a $1.8 million deficit and a fire department that does not have enough staff to safely operate, Surfside Beach Town Council is considering turning its department over to Horry County.

During a workshop meeting on Thursday morning, the council heard from the Surfside Beach fire chief and a Horry County administrator about options for moving forward. The two choices for the town are to provide funding for the fire department to hire more firefighters or let Horry County Fire Rescue take over the town’s fire department.

Since it was a workshop meeting the town council did not make a decision.

Both options will lead to increased taxes. Fire Chief David Nelson said that in order to keep the department running smoothly, taxes will likely need to increase every year for several years. It is also more expensive for Horry County to run the fire department.

Surfside Beach residents with a $200,000 house can expect a $185 increase in taxes, said Randall Webster, the Horry County assistant administrator of public safety. Surfside Beach did not share an exact number.

Insurance will also likely increase no matter the option. Horry County Fire Rescue has an ISO of three while Surfside Beach currently has an ISO of two, making insurance cheaper in Surfside right now. But Mayor Robert Krouse said that the rating probably increase.

Increasing taxes this year would be enough to pay for new positions, but the department will need more money for equipment in the following years. Town council members said this has been an ongoing problem because the town has not increased taxes in years.

Why go with Horry County?

The main advantage of turning the fire department over to Horry County is that it has more resources than Surfside Beach. It would be able to bring in an ambulance to the fire department, which Surfside Beach does not currently have. Webster said citizens would likely not notice a change in service.

The county will also try to retain the current fire staff, bringing them on as Horry County employees, Webster said.

However, the town will lose some control over the fire department if turned over to the county, which several residents and Town Council Member Shawn Fallon said concerned them. Horry County could take Surfside Beach firefighters and send them elsewhere in the county for example.

Nelson said he thinks the best option would be for Horry County to take over, despite the fact that it will put his job in jeopardy.

Town has to think fast

Webster said the town has a final deadline of July 1, 2024, but the decision has to be made soon.

In order for Surfside Beach to meet the July 1 deadline, the council would have to begin work right away. The absorption of the town would have to be approved by a county council committee and be read three times to Horry County Council. If Surfside Beach begins the process now, it would be able to finish the governmental process by July 1.

Council members could also decide to wait a year and not rush the bureaucratic process. But they will need to raise taxes this year to help the fire department get by until next year.

Both options put before the council will not bring help until later this year. If Surfside Beach is able to get the process through Horry County Council by July 1 , Horry County Fire Rescue will need time to set up.

If Surfside Beach decides to increase funding, it will take time for the fire department to hire and have staff trained.

Having the county take over will become more difficult if council members wait.

Horry County is planning on building a new fire station in the Prestwick area, which is located near Dick Pond Road, several miles away from Surfside Beach. Webster said if the county took over the Surfside Beach fire station, the Prestwick station would not need to be built.

Surfside Beach Town Council has until construction starts on the station, which is expected around 2026 or 2027, to keep a fire station in the town. If members decide to join Horry County five years from now, it will be absorbed into the Prestwick station.

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