By Paul Gable
Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner named a special committee during the county Infrastructure and Regulation Committee meeting Tuesday to study possible options for mitigating the flooding problems from which the county has consistently suffered since 2015.
Gardner appointed Harold Worley as chairman of the special committee with Al Allen, William Bailey, Kevin Hardee, April O’Leary, Alex Hyman, Nick Godwin, Forrest Beverly, Steve Gosnell and Gardner himself as committee members.
The committee brings together points of view from local and state elected officials, citizen and construction industry perspectives with county administrator Gosnell to provide technical expertise as a licensed professional engineer. The county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Division will provide staff support to the special committee.
Gardner said he believed flooding was such a problem in the county that he decided to appoint a special committee to specifically focus on flooding issues and possible ways to mitigate the problem.
The special committee will report back recommendations for mitigation to the county I&R Committee who will discuss and vote whether to forward those recommendations to full county council for approval and action.
In other flooding related issues discussed at the I&R meeting, the county Storm Water Management Department told committee members that there are approximately 250 outstanding work orders dating to as far back as 2015. The committee was also presented with a list of budget enhancements for personnel and equipment totaling approximately $4.4 million that the department needed to clear the backlog and allow the department to meet current requirements.
Council member Cam Crawford made a presentation to the committee during public input requesting the committee recommend to full council a resolution, prepared by Crawford, supporting S.C. Senate Bill 259. Crawford initially submitted the resolution for full council consideration last month before asking for it to be referred to the I&R Committee.
S259 is titled the “South Carolina Resilience Revolving Fund Act”. It was pre-filed by Sen. Stephen Goldfinch of Georgetown in 2018. The act quickly passed the Senate but has been stuck in the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee since March 2019.
The act proposes to set up a revolving fund that will make loans to local governments that will allow the local governments to meet local matching funds for federal grants for home buyouts and flood plain restoration of flood damaged homes.
In a rather halting delivery, Crawford told the committee that the act is “evolving” in the Ways and Means Committee to possibly provide funds for potential flood mitigation initiatives other than home buyouts. Crawford said the Ways and Means Committee had included $50 million in its budget to provide seed money for the loans.
The bill is being championed in the House Ways and Means Committee by Crawford’s wife, Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford. One member of the public who attended the committee meeting said Crawford’s presentation sounded like it was “scripted campaign rhetoric.”
Buying out flood damaged properties and restoring that property to its natural state is one solution to problems faced by some citizens in the county. The federal government makes grants to states from FEMA and HUD for this purpose. The grants account for 75% of the pre-flood value of the home with a local match from the state or local government of 25% required.
The first question with S259 is why the state government, which experienced a $2 billion budget surplus last year, will only commit $50 million to establishing a bank to make loans to local governments?
Why isn’t the state General Assembly willing to use a portion of that surplus to provide grants for matching funds directly rather than making loans to local governments that have to be paid back?
Is Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford so weak in Columbia that she can’t get direct funds in the form of grants from state coffers?
Additionally, why would county council support a resolution for a bill that is still “evolving”? After the final bill is passed, if it is, the county would still be eligible to apply for loans, if it chooses, whether it passes the resolution or not.
The I&R Committee split in a 2-2 vote on the question of recommending the resolution for consideration by full council. Members Bill Howard and Paul Prince votes Yay, while members Al Allen and Danny Hardee voted Nay. Committee Chairman Allen asked staff to bring back more specifics on the bill for next month’s committee meeting.
Crawford did not stay at the meeting after his presentation. He was not present for the discussion or the vote for the resolution that he asked to be on the agenda. In fact, his entire performance with this resolution has been flawed.
Crawford initially touted the resolution to the media to get some headlines. He submitted it to a full council meeting but had it pulled from the council agenda and referred to the I&R Committee after learning he did not have support of council for its passage. When it came before the committee, Crawford made a presentation and ran.
However, Crawford chose to post on his reelection Facebook page that he was “disappointed that two councilmen voted no and blocked the resolution from moving forward to full council…”
The resolution is essentially meaningless. It is not going to make one bit of difference to General Assembly members whether Horry County passes a resolution in support of the bill or not.
However, it does provide both Crawfords with a potential campaign issue to make it seem they are trying to do something to serve their constituents, even if it is to get the county in debt to the state.
Immediately after Hurricane Florence in 2018, the only thing the Crawfords could find to do for the citizens was appear for photo ops at sandbagging areas and fill a few sandbags until the cameras left.
The establishment of the special committee by Gardner, who is not running for reelection this cycle, seems to be a much better service to the citizens.