Transparency lacking in Horry council `recreation fund’

By The Editorial Board

The problem with Horry County Council members’ “Recreation Fund” is more in the process of spending taxpayers’ money rather than inappropriate recipents or questionable use.

The fund is an odd setup; each of the 12 members (11 elected from districts, the chairman countywide) is alloted $20,000, a total of $240,000 annually, and unspent money rolls over. Tyler Servant estimates $700,000 is in the fund, including accumulated money. Nonprofits apply for grants and council members effectively hand out the money to groups such as the S.C. High School Rodeo Association. Requests are approved by the full council, typically without any discussion.

At a recent meeting of the Administration Committee, Servant did object to $1,000 to the Coastal Youth Ballet Theatre to cover production costs of a performance for area schools. This request was from councilman Johnny Vaught, who sponsored a $1,000 grant to the Rodeo Association; Vaught also was one of six councilmen approving a total of $6,000 to the Palmetto Studio Arts Alliance “to promote event.”

The Facebook page of the Arts Alliance lists X Con, a comic book convention in Myrtle Beach. Other council grants were from Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus, Harold Phillips, Danny Hardee and Al Allen.

Servant, Harold Worley and Bill Howard have not allocated money from the current recreation fund. In past years, Worley used the account to support the annual Blue Crab Festival, under way this weekend in Little River.

County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus is among the members questioning some of the spending from the recreation fund, asking if it is going to recreational purposes. Last week, Lazarus voted with Servant and Dennis DiSabato to eliminate the recreation fund. They were the only votes in favor and the proposal was defeated 9-3.

“This money is a blessing to District 9,” Councilman Paul Prince said. He’s supported the Poplar Park community July 4 and Labor Day celebrations and the Loris Booster Club “parking lot repair,” in the current fiscal year.

Even allocations that may not be strictly for recreational purposes are no doubt worthwhile causes. On many of the forms requesting funds, the area was not completed where explanation is sought for “why this is an appropriate use of council recreation funds.”

The recreation fund dates to 1997, when it was intended to ensure that all districts receive a piece of the recreation funding pie. That well may reflect the best of intentions, but it’s not the best financial practice. Vaught pointed out requests are reviewed and are approved by the full council. “I don’t want anyone to get the idea it is a slush fund.” Nevertheless, the current practice will continue to beg questions of propriety, such as specifics of the combined $12,500 contributed by Vaught and Loftus for “Beach Ball Classic sponsorships.”

The best way to full transparency is to eliminate the current practice and handle justified recreation funding like other county appropriated spending.

Rodeo Association

In the current fiscal year, forms requesting Horry County Council “recreation fund” money show the S.C. High School Rodeo Association received $4,500 in five allocations, “to pay contractor fees, equipment, signs, announcer and entertainment.” The allocations and council members requesting them: $1,000 - Al Allen, Gary Loftus, Harold Phillips, Johnny Vaught; $500 - Cam Crawford.