By Paul Gable
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus announced last week he would appoint an ad hoc committee to study the controversy that exists between Coast RTA and the S.C. Department of Transportation.
The ad hoc committee will study facts relevant to two stalled Coast RTA projects, a $1 million shelter and sign project for bus routes and a feasibility study for an intermodal transportation center for the agency.
SCDOT representative Doug Frate told council members in an executive session held after a council workshop last week that Coast RTA may have to pay back approximately $500,000 to SCDOT for the stalled projects.
Frate’s presentation caused some council members to question future funding for Coast RTA and the viability of the transportation agency itself.
The county provides an annual funding grant of $1.06 million to Coast RTA. The county funding exceeds all other state and local funding to the agency combined and is used to secure matching federal funding grants.
The loss of all or a part of these county funds could cause serious financial problems for Coast RTA.
Nothing in politics happens in a vacuum and funding for Coast RTA should not be viewed in such.
For example, the county also provides $1.6 million in annual funding to the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.
Coast RTA is a state created public transportation authority while MBREDC is a private, non-profit corporation created to help draw new businesses and new jobs to Horry County.
Both agencies require stable, long term local government funding to operate.
Coast RTA secured public approval of county funding through an advisory referendum on the November 2010 general election ballot.
MBREDC is reportedly looking to secure up to $60 million in county government funding over a period of 15 years. This funding would be used for operational expenses as well as security for a proposed bond issue.
MBREDC claims to have created over 1,000 new jobs in Horry County in the last three years. However, most of those jobs are promised for future years. Information provided to GSD puts the number of jobs created and actually filled by working employees, to date, at 359.
It is necessary and proper for county council to exercise strict oversight of public dollars provided to third party agencies to ensure those public funds are being used in the public interest to achieve clearly stated and measurable goals.
We hope the same level of scrutiny and performance demand by county council will be applied equally to all agencies receiving county funding.