Committee calls Coast RTA project management ‘lacking’; will recommend continued funding

A committee appointed to study what went wrong with a $1 million Coast RTA bus shelter program will recommend that the Horry County Council continue funding Coast, but with stipulations that some of the money could reimbursable.

The committee met for more than 2 1/2 hours Monday night and dissected the findings of a failed bus shelter and signage program that dragged along for eight years before it was cancelled by the S.C. Department of Transportation in 2013.

The bus shelters are left over from a failed program that began in 2005 through a $1 million grant to Coast RTA. The shelters were purchased, piled up at Coast RTA’s Conway headquarters and put to the side as Coast officials struggled to get zoning and property for their installation. Former Coast CEO Myers Rollins, who was fired Wednesday partly because of the shelter program, asked the S.C. Department of Transportation for multiple extensions until the state agency canceled the program demanded a more than $324,000 refund of money given to the transit agency.

Some of the information uncovered by the committee was outlined in a more than 20 bullet-point presentation compiled by members of the committee.

Its findings called Coast RTA’s project management, under Rollins, as “lacking” in “objective, tenacity, willingness to seek help and attention to detail.”

The criticism did not stop there. The committee agreed the project funding Grand Strand Area Transportation Study policy committee, of which two members are appointed by Horry County, and administration of the project by S.C. Department of Transportation “were lacking in due diligence, process, and clear and direct oversight” and the inability of Coast management “to adapt and change course” after it noticed the project was not gaining ground.

County Councilman Marion Foxworth, who chaired the committee, said Coast management ordered 30 more shelters three years into the program, while only three were put up at that point and 30 unused shelters were sitting at Coast RTA.

A point of contention also was the fact that 10 shelters were sold to Myrtle Beach and used for students of the area school system, which was not allowed in the terms of the grant.

Monday’s debate pointed blame at Rollins, Coast RTA management and its board, S.C. DOT, and the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study. Each of those groups, with the exception of Rollins and the S.C. DOT, were represented on the committee.

The discussion was a mixture of three approaches: Each agency defending accusations of their failures throughout the process; using conjecture to describe the project’s shortcomings; and not watering the recommendation down so much that council doesn’t get the gist of how bad the project failed.

Foxworth said he was pleased with the committee’s work and the end result.

“I think every one of the 26 we started with is defendable,” he said. “I had mixed feelings about some and in the end, the committee didn’t choose to adopt all of them … But I still think our final report accurately depicted what we found, which was there were several people who contributed to it, but the bulk of the fault falls on Coast RTA, both in project management and in oversight for the board.”

Foxworth will present the committee’s finding at the county’s budget reading at 3 p.m. May 13 in council chambers.

Coast RTA has fought for years for dedicated funding, or a source of revenue that will not change year to year. This proposal now makes the county’s annual $1 million contribution to Coast on a reimbursement basis instead of quarterly payments. That means Coast provides a receipt to the county for an expenditure and the county reimburses the agency.

“I don’t think the reimbursement is going to impact us as much as what we think,” said Julie Norton-Dew, interim general manager at Coast. “I think the county’s willing to work with us to keep the company moving forward as we need to.”

Coast’s funding calls for local dollars to be matched by federal and state funds at different levels. For instance, half of Coast’s operations costs are covered by federal grants while the rest are made up of state and local dollars.

If the council opts to fund Coast on a reimbursable basis, Norton-Dew said she does not believe it will impact overall funding. It may need a larger lump sum at the start of its fiscal year, which is July 1, to get past the busy July and August months, but reimbursement-based funding should not be a problem.

Reimbursement is how the S.C. DOT funds the transit, Norton-Dew said. “Over the course of me being at Coast RTA for the last five years, everything we have drawn has been fully reimbursable and allowable cost. Therefore, I’m confident that every bit of money that we are allocated, we will be able to draw.”