By Paul Gable
Horry County council member Jody Prince directed county staff to prepare a briefing document for the September 12, 2013 Infrastructure and Regulation Committee meeting that discusses other options for governance of the HCWSA (Horry County Solid Waste Authority).
“I’m making an official request, as chairman of the (I&R) committee, asking staff for options for status, other than authority status, for the HCSWA, including committee, advisory board and (county government) department, and the procedures required to make such a change,” said Prince.
Prince’s request came after discussions about a resolution in which the HCSWA requests the county to approve a recycling incentive program contract between the HCSWA and the county. The committee deferred consideration of the resolution at least until the September meeting.
In addition, a resolution requesting the HCSWA to conduct its board meetings at the county government complex so the meetings could be livestreamed over the internet and recorded for later public viewing was deferred.
The question of HCSWA governance has been an issue county council has avoided for a number of years. It is well past time for this to be discussed.
The HCSWA was created by passage of county ordinance 60-90, which received final reading approval Dec. 21, 1990. Its seven board members are all appointed by vote of county council.
The ordinance specifically states, “The Authority is being created by County Council as a non-profit corporation and furtherance of the powers of the County to dispose of solid waste.” Furtherance is defined as “advancing or helping forward.”
In other words, the HCSWA was created and its board is appointed by county council to advance the county powers of solid waste collection and disposal.
In the intervening years, the HCSWA has tended to view itself as a separate entity from county government and council has, frankly, allowed this thinking to exist.
During remarks to the I&R committee, HCSWA executive director Danny Knight said ‘sometimes we’re not the county, sometimes we’re somewhat the county and sometimes we’re in between and you know how all that works.’
However, the HCSWA is currently in the process of amending its bylaws, a move that requires county council approval, so that it can tell the IRS that the HCSWA is a “discreet component unit of county government.”
The reason for the change to the bylaws is new federal law that would require the HCSWA to file a non-profit Form 990 with the IRS each year. Filing a Form 990 could open up many questions about the $37 million the HCSWA has invested as reserve funds and why. The funds are invested by Horry County Treasurer Roddy Dickinson, who invests county funds only, not those of agencies who are ‘sometimes not the county.’
HCSWA employees participate in the publicly funded state health insurance and retirement programs just as other employees of county government.
Yet, HCSWA board chairman Rev. James H. Cokley told I&R committee members that the HCSWA board members “first responsibility is to the HCSWA.”
Really? Even though you are appointed by county council and most of your revenue comes from public tax dollars? Your first responsibility should be to the citizens of Horry County and the body of their elected representatives who appointed you.
It’s well past time that this discussion was held. In my opinion, the HCSWA is an out of control organization that should have been seriously reined in by county council years ago.
If past history is any indication, the discussion going forward will be politically charged and full of veiled threats pointed at members of county council.
That’s okay. The bottom line is the HCSWA is an agency to help the county forward with its legislatively delegated responsibility to collect and dispose of solid waste.
It is not independent. It is not sometimes independent nor somewhat independent. It is an agency of county government and should be overseen by county council in the most efficient means possible. This is currently not the case.
Freestanding authorities are traditionally the worst possible form of governance for agencies operating with public funds. It’s never too late to change.
Or does the HCSWA wish to change its tune to the IRS?