By Paul Gable
The need for political activism at the local level is a constant one in my opinion. Our governments, at all levels, are only as good as we demand them to be.
Too often, citizens get hyped up about certain issues, often by outside organizations, as we approach the two-year general election mark. These organizations, backed by big budgets, promote their viewpoint on issues they care about, usually for various selfish benefits.
These issues may be important, but they pale in comparison to the many issues on the local level that pass by, almost unnoticed, on a monthly basis.
The following quote is from a comment sent to Grand Strand Daily. The organization referred to in the quote is FreedomWorks. The author and I disagree on the main goals of FreedomWorks, not the issues, but the real goals of the organization. But we do agree about the need for transparency and fiscal conservatism in Horry County.
“Transparency and accountability are the high marks of this organization in confronting politicians and policies that directly affect hard working Americans who deserve to know the truth! Citizens now have a forum for information on bills in Congress and agendas that otherwise might not be forthcoming! It would be great if Horry County politics were as diligent!”
My challenge is this – it is great to get excited about issues that may affect you at the national level. But, so much happens at the local level that directly affects you. I challenge you to get informed and active on local government issues on a routine basis, not once every two years when elections occur.
These issues involve city and county governments, the county school board and the various quasi-governmental independent authorities that use public dollars to fund their operations.
Don’t just talk about diligence in Horry County politics. Get involved, study the issues, attend committee and council/board meetings and let your views be heard. Rather than waiting for some outside organization with ulterior motives to inspire you to hang up a bunch of door hangers, get active on a personal level with local issues that directly affect your pocketbook.
Below are a few items that I have covered over the past 15 years, or so, often as a voice in the wilderness shouting for government accountability and responsibility.
In many areas of the country, local chambers of commerce have joined forces with local economic development corporations to form non-profit alliances that promote business in the area through private donations.
Not here. We have a one percent sales tax generating $18-$20 million per year that goes to the chamber along with $4-$5 million from hospitality and accommodations taxes. That’s approximately $22-$25 million of public tax dollars to fund chamber operations.
County council has designated $1.8 million of public dollars, from its general fund budget, to fund the operations of the economic development corporation and is constantly being asked to add additional tax dollars to close economic development deals.
I have covered school board meetings in the past where the board was considering the annual budget. Twelve board members considering a $500 million annual budget and not one, NOT ONE question was asked by any board member about even one item in the budget while it passed through the readings required to approve it.
We have the Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority whose charter it is to bring water and sewer services to the unincorporated areas of Horry County. According to the agency’s financial statement, it currently has over $90 million in unrestricted reserves in various investment accounts.
Irrespective of the provisions of the charter, GSWSA now operates across county lines and, in the past several years, has crossed state lines into North Carolina while there still are citizens in Horry County without water and sewer service. And, depending upon various agreements between GSWSA and municipalities, citizens pay varying rates on their water and sewer service even though it is now all GSWSA lines that are used. If one entity is providing the service, shouldn’t the cost be the same throughout the county?
The Horry County Solid Waste Authority has approximately $35 million in unrestricted reserves. It spent approximately $1.3 million in the past two fiscal years on lobbying and public relations firms. This is for a garbage dump! Shouldn’t that money be used for the benefit of the citizens rather than the “image” and monopoly operations of the agency?
The city of Myrtle Beach received a $7 million grant from the state in 2005 to purchase land from Burroughs and Chapin for future convention center expansion. The money from the land sale was used by B&C to pay off an outstanding mortgage on Myrtle Square Mall, which was then torn down. The city must complete the expansion by 2015 or pay the money back to the state. Either way, that is more public tax dollars that must be spent, essentially to help B&C pay off a mortgage.
The city of Myrtle Beach and Horry County built a baseball stadium so that Turner Broadcasting would not have to. The stadium is operated at a loss each year made up by public tax dollars. Oh yes, the stadium was built on land originally owned by B&C.
We are nearing the completion of a $200 million (including interest costs) expansion of passenger terminal facilities at the airport while less passengers will fly into the airport this year than did in 2000. Fortunately this is not the $500 million expansion that was originally proposed, but, in my opinion, it is still a huge waste of public dollars.
There are many more issues that occur on a monthly basis with these and other public dollar agencies. (We haven’t even mentioned I-73.) Let your voice be heard throughout the year, not just once every couple of years around election time.