The Garbage War in Horry

By Paul Gable

A Senate bill to eliminate flow control of the garbage stream throughout the state moved one step closer to approval last week when it passed out of the Senate Medical Committee by a vote of 10-3.

A similar bill having already passed the SC House, the only thing standing between a garbage war in the courts between Horry County and the State of South Carolina is passage of the bill by the full Senate and Governor Nikki Haley’s signature.

Horry County currently is the only county in the state to mandate flow control of its waste stream by county ordinance 02-09. The ordinance requires that all waste generated in the county must be disposed at the Horry County Solid Waste Authority landfill on Hwy 90, giving the SWA monopoly control over the county’s waste.

The state legislation, if enacted, states that the ordinance “is void to the extent that a county ordinance restricts solid waste disposal at a permitted site outside a county’s boundaries or impedes a recycling program.”

Horry County will have to take the state to court to attempt to prove the new bill equates to a “taking” by the state of county property. The “taking” litigation amounts to the civil version of an ex post facto law.

A lawsuit between the county and the state would be a good thing if it would establish once and for all the true status of the SWA – public, private or some combination thereof.

The SWA was created by county ordinance 60-90 when county council wanted to get out of the day-to-day business of running the county dump on Hwy 90. What the county created at the time is questionable as mis-information, contradictory claims and the generally amorphous quality of the entity have been associated with the SWA organization ever since.

The SWA incorporated and registered its non-profit corporate status with the S.C. Secretary of State’s office on April 15, 1992. The seven members of the authority board are nominated by Horry County Council or the Horry County League of Cities, but all are approved by Horry County Council.

However, the SWA budget is included as part of the overall Horry County Government budget each year and the authority has never filed a Form-990 with the IRS, according to its accountant. It is believed that the SWA is the only registered non-profit corporation in the state not to file Form 990 on an annual basis.

In an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the county’s flow control ordinance, the SWA describes itself, in court documents, as a private corporation which owns the Hwy 90 landfill, a recycling facility and other property.

Yet, every time the SWA is referred to in public (either by its management, board members or county council members) it is called a public landfill owned by the citizens of Horry County. It can’t be both and it will be interesting to see what it is determined to be in court.

Several things are certain, however.

The SWA has managed to amass at least $35 million in cash reserves over its 20+ years of existence, something that would be looked at very closely by the IRS if a Form 990 was filed every year.

The SWA says elimination of its monopoly on county garbage would cost the authority $600,000 to $1 million per year and its fees would have to be raised as a result.

Horry County is the only county in the state that sees a need to exercise a government established monopoly over its garbage.

The citizens of Horry County have never seen a real financial benefit from either the SWA’s ability to amass cash or its success in killing free market competition in the garbage business.


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