By Paul Gable
Continued funding of Coast RTA by Horry County Council, and at what level, will be the focus of the ad hoc committee established by Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus earlier this week.
This discussion should have been settled when Horry County voters approved an advisory referendum supporting .6 mill (six-tenths of a mill) funding for Coast RTA by a 62% to 38% margin in the November 2010 general election.
For two years, council honored the voters’ decision. However, during last year’s budget considerations, council attempted to make funding contingent on Coast RTA getting a change in state law designating membership on the Coast RTA board.
Fourth quarter funding for Coast RTA was held up for several months as a result.
The current controversy between Coast RTA and the S.C. Department of Transportation over a signage and shelter program for Coast RTA has provided another opportunity for council to address this funding.
The ad hoc committee will consider this controversy as part of its deliberations.
The controversy erupted after a letter from Coast RTA CEO and General Manager Myers Rollins to his board of directors made its way to SCDOT headquarters in Columbia. The letter was a report by Rollins on a November 4, 2013 meeting with SCDOT officials.
Coast RTA is a publicly created, publicly funded agency subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The fact that a communication from executive director Myers Rollins to his board of directors was shared outside the agency is not a problem.
The problem is what was done with that letter after it was sent to SCDOT. From sources I have talked to, the order went out to challenge everything Rollins said in the letter in an effort to paint Rollins, and Coast RTA by extension, in as negative a light as possible.
The focus of the November 4, 2013 meeting was what had been done wrong with respect to FHWA guidelines and what could be done to save the project. Details from a recording of that meeting seemed to lay most of the blame for the project not following proper guidelines with SCDOT.
After Rollins’ letter to his board appeared at SCDOT, it seems the focus at SCDOT became one to shift the blame to Coast RTA as a prelude to cancelling the project, which occurred with a December 17, 2013 letter from SCDOT to Coast RTA.
It was not long thereafter that $300,000 of the money originally designated for the project was transferred to North Myrtle Beach.
The issue of Coast RTA funding now sits fully in the political arena. Those who depend most on Coast RTA services, the poor, the elderly and the infirm, are often those most ignored in the politics of Horry County.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out.