Horry County moves on funding Coast RTA

Horry County Council appeared Tuesday to be in favor of the reimbursement method proposed to fund Coast RTA next year, with one councilman being noticeably quiet throughout the discussion.

Horry County gives quarterly payments adding up to $1.055 million annually to Coast RTA to help fund the transit agency that serves several areas including the county, Georgetown County, Conway and Myrtle Beach. Each year in the spring, the county re-evaluates its expenses during its budgeting process, and this year was a unique year for Coast.

The transit was under scrutiny by the S.C. Department of Transportation and county officials after the state pulled the plug on a $1 million grant for bus shelters and signs that was awarded nearly nine years ago. That scrutiny led to the April firing of Myers Rollins, CEO and general manager of Coast during the years of the failed program.

Before Rollins was fired, County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus created a select committee to look at the botched program and report back to the council on who was to blame for the delay in the program and whether council should continue to fund the agency.

Councilman Marion Foxworth, who was appointed chairman of the committee, gave that report to council Tuesday and said Rollins was right when he said the program was “doomed from the start” because of a confusion of who was to administer the federal grant that was awarded by a different federal agency.

“There were mistakes made by several jurisdictions, several government entities, but we found the bulk of fault laying with Coast RTA,” Foxworth said. “Both in terms of project management at staff level and periodic lapses in oversight by the RTA board, resulting in termination.”

Foxworth said the committee found that better oversight is needed on behalf of the Coast RTA board and Horry County, which led to a recommendation to reimburse Coast for expenses on a monthly basis. However, state and federal match funding for mass transportation is based on committed funds, so interim Coast CEO Julie Norton-Dew asked that the county front its first quarter payment by July 1 to keep operations afloat during the transit’s busiest months, which are July and August. The second- through fourth-quarter payments would be made on a reimbursement basis, according to the current proposal.

Councilmen seemed to be OK with that.

“Really, what in the world is the difference in giving them a grant of $263,000 [quarterly payment] upfront and reviewing after each quarter?” said Councilman Harold Worley. “Let’s just have staff review it after each quarter.”

Councilman Bob Grabowksi said he appreciated the fact the committee was looking out for where the county’s money is going, but he thinks the county’s review of the transit’s expenses on a quarterly basis should suffice.

“I really don’t see how it’s going to make much of a difference,” Grabowski said. “As long as we get those quarterly reports and we’re happy with those, then there are no problems.”

Councilman Gary Loftus, who represents the county on the Coast RTA board, was noticeably quiet during the debate. Loftus has traditionally been vocal about questions and concerns he has with the way the agency is operating.

He said after the meeting that he plans to take concerns he has with the reimbursement method to the Coast board.

“Is anything going to change because we’re doing it the same way?” Loftus said, adding he still would like to see the makeup of the Coast RTA board to reflect the amount of local funding is given to the transit. “Stand by, stand by.”

The council is expected to vote on the second reading of its 2015 budget, which includes this funding for Coast RTA, on May 20.

In other business, the county voted to select members of the public for a RIDE III advisory committee by June 17. The committee will be charged to examine future road projects throughout the region, that will eventually be considered by a six-member commission before it is considered by the Horry County Council. From there, a list of roads will go before voters to decide whether they would like to fund the road improvements with a new one-cent sales tax.

Members of the Horry County League of Cities will also be required to submit names for the committee by June 17.