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      Murrells Inlet, Garden City fire officials ask for tax hike

      Property taxes in Murrells Inlet and Garden City would go up, if leaders of that district's fire department get their way.

      They want a tax increase to pay for a new fire station, but at least one former county councilman doesn't think a tax hike is needed.

      The land has been cleared on McDowell Shortcut Road, but the Murrells Inlet/Garden City Fire Station Four has yet to be built.

      To build and staff the station, the fire district's board of directors wants the legislature to allow the district to hike property taxes by up to ten mills.

      For now, the board says it needs just two mills of that increase, which board members say would mean an additional $23 dollars a year for an average home in the district.

      The board says the extra revenue is needed to make sure the district's ISO rating that determines fire insurance rates doesn't go down.

      "We're not hurting today, probably won't hurt tomorrow, but the board foresees in the future we need to have all these ducks in a row before ISO comes in and says it's too late," said board president Al Hitchcock.

      Hitchcock says property values in the area are dropping, which will eventually lead to less revenue for the fire district.

      But former Georgetown County councilman Tom Swatzel says the district doesn't need a tax hike right now.

      He says the board has been conservative with its spending and should be commended for that. But he says that means the district has plenty of money in the bank and shouldn't have to ask for more.

      "Over the last 5 years, they've generated over a million dollars in surpluses, so it's kind of difficult to justify any kind of tax increase right now," Swatzel said.

      Hitchcock says the district has been fortunate to be able to build a reserve, but he says the Murrells Inlet/Garden City area is growing and along with it, the need for fire service.

      "More residents, more demand on the fire department," he said.

      The board will make its case for a tax hike at a public hearing at 6:00 p.m. April 29, at Fire Station One in Murrells Inlet.