The Horry County Council is mulling whether a tax should be raised to fund public transportation through Coast RTA to replace an aging bus system, outdated maintenance shop, and add bus stops and new transfer facilities.
State law does not permit transportation funding to come from property millage taxes, and Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said raising the road fees should not be an option.
Cities including Columbia and Charleston fund public transit through sales taxes, which Lazarus said is one possibility the council should consider.
“We’re going to have to take some serious, hard looks at where the money’s going to come from,” Lazarus told council members on the Transportation Committee Monday.
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“We are going to have to figure out how we are going to make a commitment (and) whether as a sales tax,” Lazarus said.
Brian Piascik, Coast RTA general manager, says nearly $16 million is needed in the short term plus an additional $3 million for future expansions. This year, Coast RTA is operating on a $5.2 million budget funded by Horry County, Georgetown County, Myrtle Beach and matching federal dollars.
The transit system is looking to build a new $4 million maintenance facility closer to the Intracoastal Waterway for efficiency purposes, a proposal that Piascik will present to the council at their budget retreat in early spring that will determine Coast RTA’s 2018 fiscal year budget.
Piascik says the current facility is an old 1950s Ford dealership in Conway that doesn’t have room inside to lift a bus for maintenance.
“It makes more sense to be closer to the waterway based on the service deadhead miles just to enter buses into service,” Piascik said.
The fleet of 23 buses is months away from its 12-year life cycle and needs to be replaced, Piascik said. Transfer facilities that offer waiting areas, customer service windows and public restrooms are also needed in Myrtle Beach and Georgetown.
Coast RTA also wants signs posted at all its designated stops.
“You have to be a pretty savvy bus rider to know where you can catch a bus,” Piascik said.
A bus shelter system proposed by the previous transportation manager was never completed, and Coast RTA is still paying back state funding that was allocated for the project.
County staffers are studying available options for a continual source of dedicated funding, including a sales tax, but an increase in the road fee will not be an option, Lazarus said.
“We’re not going to raise the road fee, again. That’s not going to happen,” Lazarus said.
Road fees paid by county automobile owners were created in the mid 1980s to pay for repaving and resurfacing existing roads and paving dirt roads in the county system, all of which totals 1,450 miles.
The fee was initially set at $15, raised to $30 in the mid 1990s and bumped to $50 in the last fiscal year, said Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman.
The RIDE III sales tax increase approved by voters in November will raise $75 million to repave and resurface existing roads and pave dirt roads.