By Paul Gable
It never takes much to stir up a political controversy in Horry County, but the one that has erupted in the last couple of days between Coast RTA and Horry County Council, over budgets, is ridiculous beyond belief.
Like any good political battle, egos are up and there are charges and counter-charges and more misinformation than real information in the air. But, the victor in these types of controversies is usually the one who controls the purse strings and that’s not good news for Coast RTA.
The genesis of this foolishness rests with the Horry County advisory referendum of 2010 in which 62.5 percent of voters said they would support giving tax dollars from the county’s general fund to Coast RTA to help fund its operations.
Since that time, Horry County has given Coast RTA a local grant of slightly over $1 million each fiscal year, making it the second largest government contributor (after the federal government) to the transportation agency’s budget.
At the same time, Horry County indicated it felt it should have a larger presence on the Coast RTA board than the one seat it currently appoints. The makeup of the Coast RTA board is determined by state law with Horry County being allotted one designee of the total of nine board members.
The Horry County legislative delegation currently gets to name three members of the board despite a state grant contribution of only $310,000 to the Coast RTA budget. Three local communities, who give nothing or next to nothing to Coast RTA’s budget, each get one appointment to the board.
In January 2013, county council asked Coast RTA CEO Myers Rollins to contact the Horry County legislative delegation for assistance in changing state law to reconstitute the Coast RTA board to reflect financial support of local agencies.
A discussion was held between council’s Administrative Committee and Rollins on June 14, 2013 and continued at the June 18, 2013 regular meeting of council whether adequate attempts have been made by Coast RTA to effect a board change.
To help spur the efforts of Coast RTA on this matter, Council unanimously approved the following amendment to its Fiscal Year 2014 budget at last week’s third reading of the county budget:
“The fourth quarter payment is planned for distribution in May (2014) and is contingent upon Council approval by Resolution. Council approval will be contingent upon Coast RTA demonstrating, to the satisfaction of Council, that it has set forth adequate efforts to achieve a change in the composition of the Coast RTA Board of Directors so that the representation reflects funding received from participating jurisdictions.”
Since that amendment was approved, it appears Coast RTA has ratcheted up lobbying efforts on its behalf by groups sympathetic to its stance.
Yesterday, I received an email from one of these groups totally misstating the facts. For example, the email said the Coast RTA board would hold a meeting Wednesday June 26, 2013 and stated:
“The meeting is to address the County Council’s decision to stop payment of a fourth installment to the agency of $268,000 leaving transit officials to look to cut routes, reduce staff and eliminate part of its fleet – all resulting in less transportation for residents, especially those unable to drive and our low-income folks, many who rely on mass transit to travel to and from work.”
No money has been withheld by county council from Coast RTA funding to date. The Fiscal Year 2014 fourth quarter payment of $268,000 could be withheld in May 2014 if Coast RTA does not demonstrate the efforts requested above.
How hard are these efforts?
Yesterday I contacted three members of the Horry County legislative delegation to ask if they would support legislation changing Horry County’s representation on the Coast RTA board from the current one to three seats. The answer in every case was “yes.” When asked whether they had been contacted by Coast RTA with a similar request, each answered “no.”
Those supporting Coast RTA should understand – the county budget has received third and final reading approval with the above amendment included. To change the budget now would require either the calling of a special council meeting before July 1, 2013, approval of a motion to reconsider the budget and approval of a new amendment to strike the above amendment – a very unlikely occurrence.
Barring that, an amendment to the county budget after July 1, 2013 would require a three reading ordinance, each reading of which would require an absolute super majority of at least nine “yes” votes for approval – an even unlikelier occurrence.
Rather than continuing to heat up the political atmosphere with the type of rhetoric I have heard over the last seven days, it would appear a simple approach by someone from Coast RTA to the Horry County legislative delegation would quickly solve the problem.
Why not try it?
Link to Coast RTA proposed fiscal year 2014 budget: http://coastrta.com/media/124390/fy14_proposed_budget.pdf
Link to county council June 18, 2013 meeting video. (Move the cursor to 1:41:00 elapsed time to watch the Coast RTA amendment discussion): http://horrycounty.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=365