The Horry County SWA and Mis-information

By Paul Gable

A meeting today between Horry County council members and members of the Horry County Legislative Delegation evolved through many points of discussion, reached no consensus on the issue of flow control of the county’s waste stream, but did address charges of mis-information about proposed state legislation.

The flow control issue is currently being debated at the state level as Senate Bill 514 makes its way through the legislative process. 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 an 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.”

Nelson Hardwick (R-D106), a supporter of the new legislation, told council members he believed it was a “shortsighted decision to create a monopoly here and not let the free market work. I like free enterprise competition.”

Alan Clemmons (R-D107) addressed copies of SWA e-mails about the issue.

“The first correspondence I received about the bill was an e-mail from the SWA attacking the legislation,” Clemmons said. “I’ve been forwarded e-mails from the SWA that are putting out mis-information (about the legislation).”

Clemmons read through a list of SWA statements about the legislation that Clemmons said “were not true.”

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.

At various times through its history, SWA officials have boasted that it was a “private, independent, non-profit corporation. This was especially true when the SWA Board of Directors signed an agreement with nine other South Carolina counties to have its Hwy 90 landfill operate as a regional landfill accepting trash from the 10 counties in the regional agreement.

Now, claiming potential liability, among other issues, and desirous of maintaining its monopoly over the county’s waste stream, the SWA is referred to as being owned “by all the citizens of the county.”

During today’s discussion, Clemmons said, “Horry County has discovered a way to create a monopoly on garbage creating an income stream.”

This statement is not exactly true as Horry County Government does not benefit from the revenue stream, only the SWA does. The county receives approximately $700,000 per year from SWA tipping fees to pay for bonds on its 911 system. The county also taxes the property of residents of the unincorporated areas of the county over 6 mills per year, all of which is paid to the SWA each year to fund the waste and recycling “convenience centers” scattered throughout the county.

Horry County Government pays more to the SWA than it receives from the agency, producing a negative income stream for the county.

Flow control is about a revenue stream, but one for the SWA, not one that could, possibly, reduce taxes for county residents.

Before getting too involved with supporting and justifying the SWA monopoly over the county waste stream, Horry County Council should determine and publicize exactly what the status of the SWA and its landfill is.

Is the SWA a private, non-profit corporation, as registered with the S.C. Secretary of State or is it part of the Horry County Government public infrastructure? Who, exactly, does own the SWA and its assets? How, exactly, does the SWA determine its budget each year and set tipping fees? How, exactly, does the SWA operation save county residents’ money?

Did the county make a mistake over 20 years ago when it created a quasi-governmental free-standing authority for solid waste?

These and probably other questions should have been answered before a flow control monopoly was allowed to be legislated. We heard a lot of SWA rhetoric, but a real public debate never took place on the question. It is still not too late to have the debate, get the answers and make an informed decision about continuing the flow control monopoly.