Horry County Council and the 2nd Amendment

February 18, 2017 5:00 AM
Horry County Council and the 2nd Amendment

The 2nd Amendment and the issue of firing weapons in close proximity to other people’s residences will again be discussed at the Horry County Council regular meeting Tuesday night.

It’s been nearly five years since Horry County Council decided not to vote on an ordinance that would restrict gun usage on private property in close proximity to residences.

At that time, the ‘Duck Dynasty crowd’, in full camouflage, packed council chambers to protest any restriction on their perceived 2nd Amendment rights with respect to where they could fire their guns in the unincorporated areas of the county.

In the interim, nothing has changed.

It would seem to be a matter of common sense that a person wouldn’t discharge a gun so that the bullets end up in a neighbor’s yard, especially if the neighbor is standing in his yard. But, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Horry County.

As I recall the discussion last time, wasn’t about where the gun was discharged, but, rather, about where the projectile could land that was considered being restricted. And that discussion didn’t even get to first reading of an ordinance.

There is no law in Horry County prohibiting discharge of firearms within a certain proximity of residences, according to county attorney Arrigo Carotti.

This issue has again been brewing in the county for the last year. In the interim:

Council chairman Mark Lazarus said we need to have a discussion (about the problem).

“As the county has grown and more and more housing developments have taken place in the unincorporated areas, protecting your 2nd Amendment rights, protecting hunters and everything else, we need to look and see, we need to protect the people living in their houses also and in the neighborhoods,” Lazarus said.

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SC Joint Pension Committee Fails Review Test

February 12, 2017 4:55 AM
SC Joint Pension Committee Fails Review Test

The South Carolina Joint Committee on Pension Review failed miserably in its task to recommend solutions to the state’s failing public employee retirement system.

Made up of a mixture of Democrats and Republicans from the SC House and Senate, the committee’s basic recommendations were to throw more money at a failing model and to silence the one statewide elected official who has been calling for changes in the system over the past six years.

The state’s public employee retirement fund has been one of the worst, if not the worst, performing public pension funds in the country. It is known for two things – extremely low rates of return on investment combined with extremely high fees paid to the institutions doing the investing.

The public retirement system is currently plagued with an estimated $25 billion shortfall on future liabilities.

The committee’s solution to closing the shortfall is to throw more money into the pot. Employee contributions will rise slightly from the current 8.66% of earnings to a cap of 9% of salary.

However, the employer contributions, those contributions paid by tax dollars from public agencies participating in the system, will rise from the current 11.56% of earnings to 13.56% beginning next fiscal year and rising each year until it reaches 18.56% in 2023. That is a 60.5% increase in tax dollars over the next six years.

As egregious as that rise of public spending is, even worse is the recommendation to remove SC Treasurer Curtis Loftis as Custodian of the pension funds and as a member of the SC Retirement System Investment Commission.

Loftis is the only public official who has routinely criticized the mismanagement of the retirement system by the Public Employee Benefit Authority and the SCRSIC as well as the high salaries and bonuses paid to SCRSIC staffers and their often cozy relationship with risky hedge fund investment managers.

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Road Maintenance Debate Could Affect Coast

February 7, 2017 5:36 AM
Travis Bell Photographers

An interesting debate on road maintenance funding appears to be forming in the SC General Assembly that could have ramifications for coastal Horry County.

Estimates in Columbia project the state needs over $1 billion annually of new revenue to fix and maintain the state’s crumbling road system.

A bill has been introduced to raise the gas tax by 10 cents over a period of five years, along with other fee increases on things like automobile registrations, automobile purchases and the like. That bill, if passed, is estimated to contribute approximately $600 million per year when fully implemented.

An increase in the gas tax gets the state about 50% toward its goal. How to get the rest of the way? Casino gambling at the coast with the tax and fee revenue generated going back to Columbia to fund road maintenance.

The desire for casino gambling has never left the minds of certain players along the Grand Strand.

In 2009, this group put its initial support behind Gresham Barrett in the governor’s race. Remember the $85,000 funneled to Barrett that was part of Coastal Kickback?

But Barrett lost to Nikki Haley and talk of casino gambling faded into the background. Now Haley is gone and new Gov. Henry McMaster is, reportedly, at least willing to listen to the arguments for signing a casino gambling bill if it passed by the General Assembly.

According to our sources, at five different local sites are being discussed for possible casinos: the old Myrtle Square Mall site, what is called the South Mixed Use District (part of the Municipal Improvement District being planned in Myrtle Beach), a site near the intersection of S.C. 22 and S.C. 31, a site on S.C. 9 and the former Hard Rock Park site.

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Attorney General’s Opinion Agrees With Treasurer Curtis Loftis

January 31, 2017 8:58 AM
Attorney General’s Opinion Agrees With Treasurer Curtis Loftis

Says State Pension Fund Accounting Methods Illegal and Unconstitutional

The following is a press release from Treasurer Curtis Loftis:

Columbia, SC – State Treasurer Curtis Loftis has been saying for years the accounting system used to calculate the state pension system’s unfunded liability is reckless, unsound and deceives the public.

For years, his concerns have been ignored. Now the Attorney General’s Office has weighed in with an official opinion, requested by Loftis, concluding that the accounting system is both illegal and unconstitutional. The 13 page opinion is attached.

Signed by Solicitor General Bob Cook of the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, the opinion says the “open amortization” method used by the S.C. Public Benefits Authority violates constitutional requirements for the retirement system to operate on a “sound actuarial basis.”

Loftis says the unfunded liabilities built up by the State pension fund are now in the range of $24-40 billion dollars.

“It’s impossible to give a more precise estimate,” Loftis said, “because the funds have been so grossly mismanaged.”

Loftis urged the S.C. General Assembly to compel the Public Employee Benefit Authority to comply with state law immediately.

“I hope this independent legal opinion provided by our Attorney General’s Office will show once for all that our pension fund management system is a sham and a major scandal that threatens to bury our State in debt,” Loftis said.

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Myrtle Beach Superblock Plans Raise Questions

January 28, 2017 5:56 AM
Myrtle Beach Superblock Plans Raise Questions

Tuesday’s announcement by city officials that a library and children’s museum is being planned for the Superblock in downtown Myrtle Beach does not come without raising questions.

Over the past several months, mystery has surrounded contacts to property owners in the Superblock area from Metro Properties representing an “undisclosed buyer.”

Ostensibly the city attempted to maintain secrecy in order to keep property values from escalating, according to statements by several city officials.

Maybe, but this sounds like we haven’t heard the entire story so far. According to media reports, Mayor John Rhodes went out of his way to assure everyone that ‘sales have been made between willing buyers and willing sellers’ and ‘fair market prices have been accepted with willing buyers.’

Why the need to sound like ‘he doth protest too much?’

Another question – why is Chapin Library part of this grand city plan?

When the South Carolina General Assembly passed Home Rule legislation in 1975, it specifically made libraries a responsibility and function of county government. Chapin Library is a city owned library that pre-dates home rule, but has been the subject of discussions between city council and county council over the last decade, with the city looking to get out of the library business or, at least, have the county pick up the costs of running the library.

Now, in an apparent reversal, the city plans to build a new library with a line of credit backed by taxpayer dollars.

No one argues the Superblock is not a blighted area that needs redevelopment. One could argue things in that area haven’t changed much since the early 1990’s when then city council members allowed Burroughs and Chapin to hijack money targeted for downtown redevelopment and use it instead to build Broadway at the Beach.

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Work on International Drive Can Continue

January 21, 2017 5:52 AM
Work on International Drive Can Continue

A state appeals court yesterday lifted an order issued last month stopping construction work on International Drive.

This reversal means the county can continue work stopped last month after the appeals court issued an initial injunction halting construction. According to the Friday order, work on the road may continue with the exception of connecting it to adjacent properties until a final decision in the appeals court is reached.

This latest ruling continues a pattern that has evolved in the International Drive saga in both federal and state courts as well as other administrative rulings. The county wins a decision to go forward, the environmentalists find a new roadblock to stop progress until the next court ruling sides with the county’s arguments.

The environmental groups’ attorney Amy Armstrong was quoted in media outlets saying a reconsideration of this latest order would be sought.

The environmentalist strategy of delay, delay, delay has been successful in stopping or seriously altering projects many times through the years.

Just to see how it works, below is a capsule synopsis of the delaying tactics used against the International Drive project:

Seventeen years ago, the Horry County Solid Waste Authority board discussed using authority funds to pave International Drive as a means of reducing garbage truck traffic on SC 90.

The environmentalists were never heard from during these discussions.

When the project began being talked about seriously at the county level (in the early to mid-2000’s), SCDNR chief counsel Buford Mabry showed up at a county council meeting to talk about the project affecting a pair of red cockaded woodpeckers that were allegedly nesting near the proposed road bed.

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South Carolina’s Public Pension Problems

January 17, 2017 5:02 AM
South Carolina’s Public Pension Problems

Six years after SC Treasurer Curtis Loftis began complaining about the poor performance of public pension investments under the SC Retirement Systems Investment Commission, legislators in Columbia have finally heard the message.

Fixing a seriously underfunded pension system has become a priority for this legislative year, The problem is you don’t fix an approximately $25 billion shortfall overnight.

When Loftis assumed the office of SC Treasurer, he became a statutory member of the investment commission. As a statutory member of the South Carolina Retirement System Investment Commission, Loftis criticized the high fees, low performance and lack of transparency associated with South Carolina’s public pension funds.

Almost immediately, the ‘good ole boy’ system in Columbia struck back. Loftis was subjected to allegations in 2011 that he and Mallory Factor were partners in what was called a “pay to play” scheme involving state retirement funds.

Despite the best efforts of members of the SC Retirement System Investment Commission, Gov. Nikki Haley, then state senator Greg Ryberg and others, Loftis was cleared of all allegations by SLED and the SC Attorney General’s office.

A couple of years later, Loftis was censured by the same SCRSIC he serves on for “false, deceitful and misleading rhetoric.”

At the time, Loftis said the commission members didn’t like him looking under rocks and asking questions about investments made by commission staff.

Things changed last spring when the CEO of the investment commission, Michael Hitchcock, told members of a Senate committee that the returns of the state pension fund have “underperformed” in recent years. He said the approximately $16 billion shortfall in the pension fund accounts has been aggravated in recent years by the gap between the assumed rate of return set by lawmakers (7.5%) and the actual rate of return (1.6%).

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Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15, 2017 5:40 AM
Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of the first Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Dr. King was only 39 years old when he was shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.

Rarely has anyone in history packed so much into 39 years.

Dr. King is best remembered as an outspoken advocate of civil rights.

He became the voice of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus in December 1955.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation on public buses unconstitutional in 1956, the doctrine of “separate but equal” was truly dying. This decision followed on the heels of the Brown v. Board of Education, decided in 1954, which was the first major chink in the armor of Jim Crow laws established after the Plessy v. Ferguson decision by the Court in 1896.

Dr. King was the Montgomery boycott’s protest leader and official spokesman, a position which thrust him onto the national and international stage for the remainder of his life.

In 1957, Dr. King was joined by other ministers and civil rights activists in founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The SCLC was committed to achieving full civil rights for African Americans through nonviolent means.

Perhaps Dr. King’s most remembered moment is his “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in August 1963.

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HCSWA Asking for Fee Increase

January 9, 2017 5:17 AM
HCSWA Asking for Fee Increase

The Horry County Solid Waste Authority (HCSWA) will ask Horry County Council to approve an increase in tipping fees at the authority’s Hwy 90 landfill site.

The increase will be part of the HCSWA budget submission to council for the coming fiscal year which begins July 1, 2017.

The requested increase results from a Cost of Service and Rate Study recently completed for the HCSWA by independent consultant HDR Engineering.

According to that study, HCSWA has one of the lowest tipping fees in the state for municipal solid waste (MSW). The Hwy 90 landfill currently charges $29 per ton for MSW while the average MSW tipping fee at public and private landfills around the state is $42.71 per ton.

The HCSWA tipping fee has not increased in 18 years.

According to the HDR study, if the tipping fee at the Hwy 90 landfill does not increase, by 2024 the HCSWA will experience a cumulative budget deficit of over $32 million.

This calculation is based on a test year of 2016, with projected revenues and expenses at the HCSWA for years 2017 through 2024 inclusive.

What is interesting to note is the HCSWA had excess revenue of $4.093 million in 2016 with $8.46 million in tipping fee revenue against a revenue requirement of $4.369 million for the authority to break even.

In 2017, the excess revenue required jumps to $11.397 million against tipping fee revenue of $8.624 for a deficit of $2.77 million. The projected deficit increases year by year from that point.

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Thoughts for 2017

January 3, 2017 5:15 AM
Thoughts for 2017

As we move into 2017, there are some random thoughts I wish to share about what I foresee as potentially newsworthy.

First and foremost for South Carolinians, congratulations to Clemson for making it back to the National Championship game. It took an entire season of play to get the same result for the final game.

The Tigers will again face Alabama in a game many think they can’t win. Something about this season feels more like 1981 than last year did. Clemson to win its second National Championship and move Dabo Swinney into the same breath as Danny Ford.

A new law heralded as tougher on ethics says public officials must disclose the sources of their private, taxable income. Not the amounts, just the sources.

We are watching a corruption investigation on state legislators play out with the recent indictment, on 30 counts, of former House Majority Leader Rep. Jim Merrill. This law would not have changed anything I can see about what Merrill did to allegedly break the law.

The investigation will continue and I believe we will see more indictments of current legislators.

What will be more interesting is to see what organizations get named in the indictments. One of the counts against Merrill alleges money was laundered from the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to Merrill through his brother’s firm, Pluff Mud Public Affairs, LLC.

A cursory look at the internet showed the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce wrote checks to Pluff Mud Public Affairs, LLC in 2011 totaling just over $60,000. That information comes from the Chamber’s own reporting of its public fund expenses.

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