The Horry County Council will choose between two finalists for the Horry County administrator job at tonight's council meeting after nearly a year of searching for the right person.
The council will choose between former Oconee County administrator Dale Surrett and interim Horry County administrator and county attorney John Weaver. As the second round of the search comes to a close, the council has found itself in a similar position as during the first round - one finalist had dropped out leaving two, and one of those finalists was Weaver.
Council members said this week that they are hopeful the second round of the search will not end in another stalemate as the rest of the county staff deals with a looming budget deficit, the airport expansion and other issues waiting on the plate for the next administrator.
"Probably the first, second and third priority will be the budget. This year's budget was the worst that anyone had seen in 35 years," said Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland. "Our first priority as a council is to continue to do the services without sending anyone home. Our people have worked harder to do more than just their jobs."
This year's potential budget woes seemed to loom large over the council members just days before the annual spring budget retreat this Thursday and Friday. Many members said the next administrator's top priority will be easing the potential budget woes for next year and for several years to follow.
"He needs to start working on the budget projects for the next several years, not just 2011, but 2012, 2013 and 2014. He needs to let the department heads know what they have to work with and where they may need to consider trimming as soon as possible," said Councilman Gary Loftus. "Part of that is jobs, jobs, jobs, and part of that comes with economic development. Hopefully we can set up a structure where the county doesn't have to worry about running it, but just funding it. Hopefully we can find a dedicated funding stream for that."
Several council members also suggested the new administrator will have to take an active role in economic development by being a visible cheerleader for the county with potential businesses and employers.
Others also noted the administrator will be asked to be a background player by setting more measurable goals for the economic development agencies that receive part of their budgets from the county.
The council has had several heated discussions about the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. not meeting the goals for jobs or businesses brought to the county during the past few years because of issues in the economy.
Councilman Bob Grabowski said he agreed that the budget and economic development will be a top priority, but said the most immediate task for the new administrator will be helping hire a new director for the Horry County Department of Airports, which has been without a permanent leader almost as long as the county has been without an administrator. Former airport director Bob Kemp retired in June, about a month after former Horry County Administrator Danny Knight resigned to take a job with the Solid Waste Authority.
Weaver told the council during his finalist interview that he was preparing to advertise for the airport job and that a committee had been appointed to help review resumes and vet potential candidates.
The proposed expansion of Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is operated by the county despite being inside Myrtle Beach city limits, has been a priority for Weaver as interim administrator for the past 11 months, but it may not need to be a priority for whoever is appointed tonight, some council members said.
Councilman Howard Barnard pointed out that the council will be voting on the finalized expansion funding and construction plans likely at its April 20 meeting. From there, he said, the administrator will have to check in on construction, but the hard part probably will be over.
Councilman Marion Foxworth said the new administrator will have to face several legislative issues at the beginning of his tenure, including an issue with the county's trash laws that restrict the flow of trash out of the county, a property reassessment bill and others that will have an effect on home rule.
"In the last 10, five and two years, and the last three months and the last week, continuing to fight for a modicum of home rule is going to be very important particularly in Horry County. We're one of several counties that have urbanized and are expecting a higher level of service than we have been able to provide up to this point. If we can't pay for them, then we'll have to re-evaluate those services," he said.
Despite the ongoing issues with funding, growth and balancing services throughout the diverse and growing county, Barnard said one of the largest and perhaps toughest issues the new administrator may face is building consensus on a council that may dramatically change in the June primary election or in the November general election.
Seven council seats are up for re-election this year, and six of those seats are being contested. There will be at least one new face on the council next year because the District 5 seat is left open after Barnard decided to run for the chairman's seat. Gilland has decided not to run for re-election.
"I think almost as important as the budget is going to be being able to build a consensus and relationships with the council members," Barnard said. "I think we need to give clear guidance to the administrator, what our vision of the county is, and give him measurable objectives so we can provide measurable feedback. We have not done that in the past, and hopefully we can be better at it."