By Paul Gable
The efforts of the Horry County Solid Waste Authority to maintain its monopoly control of the county’s garbage was big business for lobbying firms during the recent legislative session as the SWA paid its lobbyists a whopping $263,888.40 during the first six months of the year.
For those of you who saw reports in local media and other blogs of a much smaller amount, $77,479, the difference is what was paid by the SWA in June 2012.
Rather than being ranked 21st on the list of entities in the state that pay big money to lobbyists, the June payments raised the SWA to the number two spot, only marginally behind the $276,000 AT&T paid to lobbyists this year to influence state legislators.
Lobbyist payments are reported twice a year to the S.C. Ethics Commission. The first filing period covers payments made between January 1st and May 31st. The second filing period covers June 1st thru December 31st.
The SWA’s report to the ethics commission for the first filing period ending May 31, 2012, showed payments totaling $77,479. The lobbyists paid were Beam and Associates, Billy Witherspoon and Art Braswell.
However, in June 2012, Beam and Associates were paid an additional $186,409.40 for their lobbying efforts on behalf of the SWA. The total was paid in two checks by the SWA – check number 51268 for $81,524.69 dated June 7, 2012, and check number 51436 for $104,884.71 dated June 29, 2012.
These June payments put a much different light on the total cost of the SWA’s lobbying efforts in Fiscal Year 2012. I won’t say the SWA held off paying most of its fees to Beam until after the May 31st reporting period in order to keep the enormity of the amount it pays to lobbyists under the public’s radar, but it sure smells that way.
The SWA was formed by 22 years ago by county ordinance 60-90. Its intent was to operate the county landfill on Hwy 90. Included in the original ordinance was the intent of council to have the SWA to work with others in the waste business, including the private hauling industry, to handle the county’s waste disposal in a clean, cost efficient manner. It also directed the SWA to find alternatives to burying all the garbage in the county.
None of this has happened. In the 22 years since the ordinance was passed, the SWA has fought an almost continuous battle against private haulers to squeeze them out of the disposal business.
Instead of looking for alternatives outside of the county boundaries in which to dispose of waste, the SWA lobbied, browbeat and threatened council over the years until ultimately in 2009, a ‘flow control’ ordinance that now requires all garbage generated in the county to be disposed of at the SWA landfill.
Waste disposal is big, cash business. The SWA doesn’t want to share that revenue stream with anyone, including the citizens of the county.
The flow control issue, which the SWA spent at least $263,888.40 in lobbying fees on in FY 2012, is not settled at the state level and should be subject to new state laws being introduced in the coming legislative session to ban the practice. Does this mean the SWA will spend even more money in FY 2013?
Probably! The SWA has been flush with excess cash for years. It appears to have approximately $35 million in excess reserves stashed in its ledgers.
One reason council members say they voted for flow control was to protect a ‘potential revenue stream’ for county government. Well, the county has not realized one cent of that ‘potential revenue stream’ to date while the SWA has wasted big bucks lobbying state legislators to allow its flow control garbage monopoly to continue.
The SWA budget is included as a section of the overall county budget, operating as an enterprise fund. This is county money, not some private entity’s as the SWA likes to think of itself.
It’s time to make that ‘potential revenue stream’ into a reality. Put it to work in the county’s general fund budget and let it benefit all the citizens.
It’s time for council to demonstrate a little backbone, dissolve the SWA and place operation of the landfill under the county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Division. Revenue from the landfill can flow into the county’s general fund budget to help fund services throughout the county, such as additional public safety personnel that always seem to be a need.
Let the citizens of the county benefit from the cash flow rather than the lobbyists, contractors and other consultants the SWA, in my opinion, currently wastes this ‘potential revenue stream’ on.