By Paul Gable
As the Horry County budget process gains momentum later this month through the end of June, one entity we will be watching with interest is the Horry County Solid Waste Authority.
In our opinion, this quasi-independent government created authority works counter to the interests of private business and the public in Horry County, provides no real value to Horry County government, but works hard on propaganda and its self-image while amassing millions of dollars in excess funds that could be put to better use.
The SWA controls the waste stream (garbage and debris) within the county through a flow control ordinance passed by county council several years ago. The ordinance dictates that all garbage generated within the county must be disposed of at the SWA Hwy 90 landfill at rates dictated by the SWA.
We were told at the time the ordinance was passed and have been continuously reminded since that the SWA needed a monopoly over the county’s garbage in order not to lose $600,000 to $1 million per year.
Why would the SWA lose this amount? Simple, private waste haulers could dispose of it cheaper at private landfills if not forced by county law to dispose of it at the SWA.
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. 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.”
We believe it is past time for a real, behind the scenes look to be taken at the SWA and its finances. It is also time to take another look at whether the SWA should be dissolved and running of the landfill be taken over by the county Public Works Department, as it is in Greenville County. In this way, tipping revenue would go straight to the county’s general fund and only the necessary expenses of running a landfill would come reduce that revenue?
Over the past year, as the state General Assembly has debated legislation to ban flow control throughout the state, the SWA has spent approximately $300,000 on lobbyists working against the bills. It plans $150,000 in its upcoming year for riding trails and picnic shelters on part of its property. The SWA spends thousands each year producing and televising ads on local stations. How does this add to the efficiency of burying garbage?
Could the SWA revenue be put to better use? For example, if much of the excessive spending on Hwy 90 was curtailed, could the taxpaying citizens of Horry County receive better county services (i.e. increased fire service)?
Gary Alderman, the county fire chief, is proposing a tax increase of approximately 4.5 mills to county council for the upcoming fiscal year budget. Could this be funded from garbage revenue without a tax increase?
County council must look at these options as budget revenue remains tight and the SWA continues to spend virtually uncontrolled.