By Paul Gable
The spotlight that shined last week on the controversial proposed paving of Goldmine Road illuminated the need for a new policy governing the way state transportation “C” funds are disbursed and used in Horry County.
“C” funds come from 2.66 cents of the 16 cents per gallon state tax on gasoline and are apportioned to the counties according to a formula established in state law. They are collected by the S.C. Department of Revenue and Taxation and are deposited in the County Transportation Fund in the state Treasury until they are disbursed.
According to state law, 25 percent of the funds must be spent on the state highway system for construction, maintenance or improvements of state roads. The remainder may be spent for paving or improving local roads, traffic and street signs, road resurfacing, sidewalk construction and drainage improvements.
Initially, each county legislative delegation controlled how “C” funds were spent. After a 1994 decision by the S.C. Supreme Court found this to be unconstitutional, state law was changed removing the legislative delegations’ control of the funds and transferring control to County Transportation Committees. There is no specific state requirement for the makeup of CTC’s only a requirement that cities and unincorporated areas in each county have fair representation. In Horry County, each state legislator has one personal appointment to the CTC. According to state law, each CTC is responsible for the formation of a county transportation plan.
In many counties in the state today, the full allotment of funds each year is turned over to the county government to be spent on road projects included in the county transportation plan. In Horry County, only $500,000 of the approximately $8 million received each year is allotted to county government for maintenance of county roads. The rest is spent on projects determined by the CTC.
Horry County has very specific road plans. The RIDE I and RIDE II plans were approved by county council and funded with Hospitality Tax and the State Infrastructure Bank for RIDE I and a one cent Capital Projects Sales Tax approved by referendum of the voters for RIDE II. A $30 road maintenance fee, which pays for paving dirt roads, is included in property tax paid on all vehicles registered in the county.
Dirt roads are paved in accordance with a priority list established by county council members and maintained by the county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Division. Considerations such as number of years the dirt roads have been in existence and the number of residences on each road are major factors in the prioritization of the paving list.
According to the county website, the GIS link lists one residence on Goldmine Road while other dirt roads in the same area have multiple residences. Goldmine Road was not on the county’s priority list for paving, yet the CTC decided independently to pave the road.
Therein lies the rub. The county has very specific transportation plans in its Comprehensive Road Plan. Extra taxes have been levied on county residents for road construction and improvements pursuant to the RIDE I and RIDE II plans. Yet, the CTC decides to pave a road without determining if the project is in the overall best interests of county planning.
It seems that the best use of the approximately $8 million the CTC administers each year would be to utilize the funds for county projects established in county government plans. In other words, turn over the full amount of “C” funds received each year to county government for use in its overall transportation plan.
If the county was assured of receiving the full amount of CTC funds each year, it could bond against that amount. Would it have been necessary to levy extra taxes on county residents for RIDE I and RIDE II if the full amount of “C” funds was assured to the county each year?
One of the main criticisms with the U.S. Congress is the amount of public funds that go to ‘pork barrel’ projects each year. It seems like the Horry County legislative delegation has its own little ‘pork barrel’ with the “C” funds administered by the CTC.