SC: Horry County to Form Committee to Study Coast RTA

Feb. 20--A committee will provide some "fresh eyes" on operations at Coast RTA this spring as Horry County, who contributes more than $1 million to the transit, prepares to hash out next year's budget.

This is the second time the county has dabbled in having a major impact on a county agency in the 10 months Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus has been at the helm. Just last month, Lazarus asked the county's administration committee to look into creating a process if the county ever decided to dissolve the Horry County Solid Waste Authority, which runs the landfill. That process is still ongoing.

Lazarus told the council at its meeting Tuesday he has some concerns about Coast RTA amid the recent revelation that the transit could be on the hook for up to $500,000 for a failed bus shelter program and a delay in the area's plan to build an intermodal complex.

"We're getting ready to come up in to our budget time and I've got some serious concerns," Lazarus said at the meeting. "I've got some concerns of the future of funding for Coast."

In 2010, 62 percent of voters approved an advisory referendum that suggested the county fund Coast at .6 of a mill for operations. The county followed suit and gives the transit $1.05 million annually, made in quarterly payments.

In early 2013, the county asked Coast officials to look into restructuring its board to include more county-appointed members to equal the amount of money it provides the transit's more than $5 million budget. When officials were slow to make progress, the county withheld its fourth-quarter payment to the transit, causing transit officials to craft an alternative budget. The transit later made more progress in finding out how to re-constitute the board and the council eventually gave the transit its money.

Last summer, Lazarus reached out to Coast RTA and was determined to fix the communication problem between the transit and the council. He and Bernard Silverman, chairman of the Coast RTA board, set an open house in November for county council members and board member of the Coast RTA to meet and tour the transit's facilities. That meeting never came to fruition because a focus group study report was not ready, which upset Lazarus.

Then, in late 2013, Coast learned it may be liable for up to $500,000 for a grant it received in 2007 for bus shelters and signage. The work was never completed due to numerous hurdles. Part of the $500,000 reimbursement includes work done for an intermodal complex that would house buses, taxis, bicycles and more. But because the preliminary work wasn't properly bid, the money has to come from the transit and it must be re-bid.

Silverman, chairman of the Coast board, said he realizes the timing of the bus shelter program reimbursement and budget times for both the county and the transit makes it a tough time of year.

"We're under a lot of pressure," Silverman said. "We have customers. We have equipment. We have employees. We need this money."

Silverman said the county's contribution mostly goes to operations of the transit, which is matched 50-50 by federal funds. Some of the county money, he said, goes toward capital, like buses, where it can be matched up to four times by federal funds.

"We need the county, there no question about it and the county needs us," Silverman said.

Lazarus agreed, and called public transportation an "integral part of the inner workings of our county." He appointed Councilman Marion Foxworth as chairman of the committee. The committee will also include Silverman, County Councilman Carl Schwartzkopf, a member of the county's finance department, a Coast RTA board member, a finance staff member at Coast, appointees from Myrtle Beach and Georgetown County, who both contribute money to Coast, and a community member. Lazarus would like to hear the committees findings by mid- to late-May, which would be in time for the county's June meeting.

"I want to make sure that we've got a fresh set of eyes looking at this so they can bring some information back to us as a council as we begin our deliberations with our budget and make sure that we've got some good information," Lazarus said at the meeting.

Silverman said he knows the county has the transit's best interest at heart.

"I think they're with us," Silverman said. "I think they want to see us do well and I want to believe that they want to see the transit grow in Horry County."

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZat 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.

Copyright 2014 - The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)

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