The botched bus shelter program and delayed intermodal project for Coast RTA may have even further repercussions beyond the projects not getting done. Horry County could pull back some of its more than $1 million annual funding or put stipulations on how the money gets spent.
At least that’s the early indication from a select committee appointed by County Councilman Mark Lazarus to examine just what went wrong with the bus shelter program and intermodal project.
The federally funded bus shelter program was administered by the S.C. Department of Transportation beginning in 2007 and was to bring more than 50 shelters throughout the county and various informational signs for commuters. Various challenges, including permitting problems, delayed the program until the state canceled the program late last year and said the transit may be liable to reimburse up to $500,000.
“In order to make a good attempt to determine whether or not a continued funding of Coast RTA would be in the best interest of the county, we are to look at those two programs from a funding standpoint and see if they represented management failures or things that perhaps were not where they should be or if it was simply a blip” on the radar, said Marion Foxworth, chairman of the select committee. “The sentiment on our council was that those actions created such a concern that moving forward was, at best, problematic and, I think, in an effort to be fair to Coast RTA, [Lazarus] appointed this committee to look at this situation and make a recommendation back to the full council.”
Coast RTA is funded by a variety of local, state and federal sources. In a 2010 advisory referendum, which is non-binding, Horry County voters told the council it would like to see transit funded at a rate of .6 of a mill, which equaled about $1.05 million this year. Myrtle Beach spent about $365,000 this year funding the transit, while Georgetown County spent $220,000 and Conway funds about $4,000.
Local funding for operations is matched dollar for dollar, and funding for capital projects, like the purchase of a bus, is matched by up to $4 to $1 of local funds.
It was unclear Thursday if Myrtle Beach’s funding would be affected by the committee’s findings. Myrtle Beach City Councilman Wayne Gray, who was appointed to represent the city, did not return a call for comment Thursday.
The committee is slated to meet again March 31, which is when Doug Frate of the DOT is scheduled to appear to give his side of why Coast RTA lost its funding for the projects.
Since early 2013, the county has been trying to get Coast to work with state legislators to add more county representatives on the Coast RTA Board of Directors to equal, by percentage, the amount of county-appointed members on its board based on the amount of money given to the transit. Coast officials did not make adequate enough progress early last year, prompting the county to withhold its fourth-quarter payment to Coast until it was farther along in the process. That forced Coast to pass a temporary budget until the county saw the transit making progress by lobbying legislators to try to change state law that dictates who should be on the Coast’s board.
Last summer, Lazarus reached out to Coast RTA and was determined to fix a communication problem between the transit and the council. He and Bernard Silverman, chairman of the Coast RTA board, set an open house in November for county council members and board member of the Coast RTA to meet and tour the transit’s facilities. That meeting never came to fruition because a focus group study report was not ready, which upset Lazarus.
Also at issue is Coast’s liability for part of work done for an intermodal complex that would house buses, taxis, bicycles and more. Because the preliminary work wasn’t properly bid, some money has to come from the transit and it must be re-bid.
Lazarus has said the committee should be complete with its report, and opinion on whether fault on the failed projects were because of Coast or not, by June 1. The county uses its two June meetings to hash out and finalize the 2015 budget.
Coast Board Chairman Bernard Silverman, who also is on the select committee, said Lazarus’ purpose for the committee was heard loud and clear.
“I think the chairman is saying we have a problem,” Silverman said. “He’s saying we have issues. … I think it’s a serious situation. They could say that if we think these two issues were not handled well, then why should we trust you with a million dollars? … What they’re saying is we might not give it to you or we might give you less or we might give it to you with a reporting responsibility.”
Coast already reports to the council quarterly.
After the select committee meeting, Coast had a compensation and contract meeting for CEO Myers Rollins. Silverman said that meeting was previously planned and was not called because of the select committee meeting. Rollins’ five-year contract is set to expire in August.