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Why some Horry County parks could be privatized

Privatizing Horry County’s public parks will get its own special meeting ahead of the spring recreational season.

Horry County’s Infrastructure and Regulation Committee met on Tuesday to discuss creating a “request for proposal” to allow private companies the chance to run parts of the parks and recreation department.

Instead of moving forward with a proposal this week, Committee Chair Al Allen said there will be a special workshop meeting to further debate the issue.

No date has been set, but it will most likely be held before Christmas.

Horry County Administrator Steve Gosnell said a potential RFP will just be a trial run that could privatize a couple recreational centers, not the whole department.

Ahead of the upcoming meeting, Horry County staff will create a draft RFP for the committee to use as a reference point. Full county council will have to approve the proposal before it can be sent to the public.

The idea to privatize the parks came during the Fiscal Year 2020 budget process when there was a shortfall of funds to maintain current operations. County Council voted to increase taxes to get the parks department through the year, but more funding will be needed in the upcoming budget.

Costs have increased on the parks department due to the vastness of the county and the amount of property it has to maintain. Committee member Paul Prince said a company is going to try to maximize profit from the parks.

“If you have a company, they’re going to run it to make money, and that’s not what it is all about,” Prince said.

Privatization means an outside company would run a recreational center with the county acting as the landlord. At the workshop, the committee must set the standard for the potential company on charges, quality and responsibilities for the RFP.

Allen said it should be the same standard that the county currently upholds.

“It’s apples to apples,” he said. “If they’re not proposed to do exactly the things we did, same hours, quality, we’re not talking about apples to apples.”

Not privatizing some of the parks will likely require finding a new way to increase the department’s budget in order to maintain current operation, which typically means a tax increase.

“If we go forward with county money, we have to raise taxes to maintain our current standards,” Committee Member Bill Howard said.

If an RFP is approved and sent out to the public, that does not mean the parks will be privatized. County Council would still have to approve the new business. The hope is to see if an RFP can bring in a company that can maintain acceptable recreational offering for residents while potentially saving the county some money to avoid a tax increase.

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