By Paul Gable
While the full $1.055 million funding grant to Coast RTA remains in the Horry County budget after second reading, the ability of the bus agency to draw that money will be significantly more restricted in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2014.
A move against Coast RTA funding has been growing among county council members since February. It showed its full face Tuesday night when council approved second reading of the Fiscal Year 2014-15 budget.
Included in second reading was a budget amendment offered by council member Al Allen that stated funding for Coast RTA will be withheld pending satisfaction of terms set forth by council in a funding agreement with Coast RTA. When the terms of that funding agreement have been met, council will vote on a resolution to approve transfer of funds to the bus agency.
One of the terms Allen specifically requested was completion and presentation of findings of an independent audit of Coast RTA before any county funds are released to the agency.
In addition to an independent audit, council member Brent Schulz called for an outside expert to be contracted to study current bus routes, vehicle condition and use and salary structure of Coast RTA among other items.
The amendment passed by a 10-2 vote of council with members Marion Foxworth and Bob Grabowski voting in opposition.
The 10 council members voting for the amendment demonstrated a strong desire on the part of council that Coast RTA demonstrate times are changing with new direction among agency management and considerably more oversight from the Coast RTA board.
Currently struggling to overcome its second scandal in 10 years and carrying the designation of a high risk agency by SCDOT since 2011, Coast RTA will be under considerably more scrutiny from county council and county staff in order to continue to receive grant funding from the county.
There is one further potential problem down the road. The county does not have its final numbers from reassessment yet. It does not know the final value of a mill or how much revenue will actually be brought in with budget assumptions staff and council are working under at this time.
In the words of council member Marion Foxworth county staff is asking council to pass a “fill in the blanks” budget with the blanks to be finalized sometime in the next 60 days.
According to information staff provided to council Tuesday night, the county will be collecting less revenue after reassessed property values are plugged into the system if county millage stays the same as it is today.
Another way of looking at that is the value of a mill is going down and if the county is to stay revenue neutral with reassessment, a tax increase will be needed. The tax increase needed to maintain revenue at current levels was projected as “slight” by county administrator Chris Eldridge last night.
The idea of a tax increase, even one to maintain revenue neutrality for the county with the new reassessment property values, did not appear popular to a majority of council.
If the county budget gets down to a million or two dollars needed to be cut from the general fund in order to balance the budget without a tax increase, Coast RTA funding is going to look like low hanging fruit to a group in council that is less than impressed with the idea of funding the bus agency.