By Paul Gable
There are six weeks to go before county voters will go to the polls to vote in local, state and federal primary elections.
The race which seems to be drawing the largest amount of attention throughout Horry County at this time is the Republican Primary contest for Horry County Council Chairman between challenger Johnny Gardner and incumbent Mark Lazarus.
At the same time, Horry County Council is considering its budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins July 1, 2018. Four weeks ago, Grand Strand Daily ran a story about the proposed FY 2019 budget calling it an election year budget because of provisions in the proposed budget that appear to be included just to attract voters to incumbents.
Unfortunately, this type of focus on the budget at election time does not serve the best interests of council or the citizens.
According to multiple sources within county government, decisions for Horry County are being micromanaged by a partnership between Lazarus and County Administrator Chris Eldridge.
This partnership proposed an average three percent merit raise for all county employees with somewhat larger raises targeted to public safety personnel (police, fire and EMS) in the FY2019 budget.
This is not to say the proposed raises are unjustified. However, this type of targeting and its associated hype during council’s Spring Budget Retreat appear to be more about the votes of county employees than the needs of the county. County employees along with their families, neighbors and friends comprise a large voting block.
The micromanagement partnership focus appears to be on the wrong issues, however.
Despite the proposed raises, Horry County Professional Firefighter Local 4345 of the International Association of Firefighters and Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 endorsed the candidacy of Gardner in the upcoming June 12, 2018 primary.
Understaffing remains a problem in the respective public safety departments impacting both response times for service calls and overall working conditions for officers. Nothing has been done to seriously address understaffing during the nearly five and one-half years Lazarus has been council chairman.
Providing more staff requires money. But, that can’t really be the problem because last fall, with little notice or public discussion, council rushed through the purchase of over 3,000 acres of swamp land off of International Drive at a cost of nearly $12 million.
Lazarus promoted this purchase during a council meeting as roughly the greatest thing since sliced bread was introduced. However, several real estate agents Grand Strand Daily contacted said the same type of land for approximately one-third of the price is available in the western areas of the county.
Another high profile micromanagement issue caused Eldridge and county government to be sued by Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones over questions of the State Constitution and Home Rule provisions when Jones was denied a mere $30-40,000 budget enhancement for staffing in the current budget.
Why the public safety understaffing and the Treasurer resorting to a lawsuit over a staffing issue while council has no problem approving $12 million to purchase swamp land?
Over the next six weeks, Grand Strand Daily will take a close look at these types of issues as the primary election races unfold and the county moves toward finalizing its next budget.