Coast RTA drafts proposal to pay SCDOT $324,000 over 10 years for failed bus shelter program

CCU students wait to board a Coast RTA bus. The Sun News Photo by Steve Jessmore sjessmore@thesunnews.com
CCU students wait to board a Coast RTA bus. The Sun News Photo by Steve Jessmore sjessmore@thesunnews.com The Sun News

Coast RTA is hoping the S.C. Department of Transportation will accept its plan to use advertising revenue for the next 10 years to pay off the more than $324,000 it owes the state for a failed bus shelter and sign project.

Coast officials announced the plan to pay off the debt via a press release Thursday night.

The plan offers two options for reimbursement: pay more than $32,000 annually for the next 10 years through advertising revenue it generates from ads on buses or a combination of ad revenue and state mass transit funds.

“I think it’s a reasonable plan,” said Bernard Silverman, chairman of the Coast RTA board. “The money is the money and I don’t really think it matters where it comes from. Although I think the perception is probably a little bit better that we’re not losing grants. We’re paying with money that is generated by Coast.”

The 10-year plan “would enable Coast RTA to maintain current service levels for the communities served in Horry and Georgetown counties,” according to the release.

Advertising sales are not taxpayer-generated funds and are routinely used for debt payments or match for operating expenses and capital activities, the release states.

S.C. DOT, however, asked in a letter dated March 21 to be reimbursed by no later than fiscal year 2014-2015.

It also stated in the letter that alternate plans for payback could be considered.

Pete Poore, spokesman for DOT, said the agency received Coast’s letter by email late Thursday.

“The proposal is being taken under consideration,” Poore said in an email response to The Sun News. “A response will be issued next week after the determination of a final decision is made on payback parameters.”

The federally funded bus shelter program was administered by the DOT 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 it late last year and said the transit could be liable to reimburse the state up to $500,000.

To determine the final balance, the state used a formula that took federal and state funding of $462,124.96 and subtracted a credit of the $138,031.67 for actual work completed and proceeds from the auction of the remaining inventory Coast bought, according to the press release.

Coast RTA is funded by a variety of local, state and federal sources.

In a 2010 advisory referendum, which is nonbinding, Horry County voters told the council it would like to see transit funded at a rate of 0.6 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.

A select committee, appointed by County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, is examining the failed bus shelter program and an intermodal project.

The intermodal project would create a 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.

The committee should be complete with its report, and opinion on whether Coast is at fault for the failed projects by June 1. The county uses its two June meetings to hash out and finalize the 2015 budget.

The select committee meets Monday and County Councilman Marion Foxworth, chairman of the select committee, said the committee stipulated that reimbursement could be made with future revenue, such as what the transit is proposing here.

He said committee members have identified conflicts in figures throughout the project, which has prompted more questions.

“Some of this will probably be explored Monday night at least trying to get some kind of explanation,” Foxworth said.

Silverman said he does not think DOT will force Coast to pay the full amount by 2014-2015 because it would be “devastating” to Coast.

“I don’t know of any plan,” Silverman said. “I don’t know where that would come from. That would be a devastating amount of money because Coast has no reserves ... I would hate to think that and I don’t think that DOT wants to see us go under.”