Budget Time for Local Governments

March 21, 2017 1:02 PM
Budget Time for Local Governments

This week will see several local governments, particularly Myrtle Beach and Horry County, in budget workshops as next year’s revenue and spending is considered.

If you have never seen the local budget process in action, you should consider at least watching some of the workshop meetings on local cable television or live streaming on the internet.

After all, it’s your money they are spending and services for you they are supposed to be providing.

Much of the discussion will be on the agencies’ respective general funds. Those are the funds that pay for public safety, public works, administration and so forth.

For each agency, approximately 65% of general fund expenditures are for personnel pay and benefits.

However, the respective general funds are not the only budget areas that affect local citizens.

The Horry County Solid Waste Authority, which is a component unit of Horry County Government, is asking for a $7 per ton increase on the cost of dumping municipal solid waste (household garbage) at the Highway 90 landfill.

If county council approves a rise in the SWA MSW tipping fee, every household and business in the county will be paying more for garbage disposal.

The City of Myrtle Beach parking fees, which go to the Downtown Redevelopment Corporation and are currently helping fund the taking of businesses through the use of eminent domain, are a problem for all county residents.

Read more ›

South Carolina Education Problems

March 14, 2017 8:31 AM
South Carolina Education Problems

For once Mississippians are now saying, “Thank God for South Carolina!”

This is because South Carolina was recently ranked at the fiftieth in public education among the states, a spot previously held by the Magnolia State.

Many cite the lack of funding or quality of teachers as the source of this not so coveted distinction. These may be factors to our problems but they are not the source of our extremely dysfunctional system.

The source of our state’s education problems stem back to the early to mid-1900’s when the South Carolina General Assembly decided it was a good idea to override the general educational laws with local legislation to create special ways to govern public schools within localities.

Since that time the General Assembly regularly asserts its power to tinker with the governance and administration of the individual local public school districts through local legislation on a frequent basis. These bills have created to date the over eighty school districts, none of which are anywhere similar in size or governance structure.

Any astute politico will tell you that centralizing both government and administration is a recipe for disaster, and is purely bad governance.

The General Assembly needs to govern our education system in a centralized manner by defining what the qualifications are for having a school district, establish consistent forms of governance for those districts, and let them run with it without any more tinkering local legislation, much like how the Home Rule Act of 1975 works for municipalities and counties.

Doing this would level the playing field and equalize funding across the state. It would allow the localities to focus on their issues which are what they are supposed to do, being administrative divisions of the state government.

There are too many cooks running wild in this kitchen we know as the South Carolina public education system and it is time they know their place so the customers can be served in an effective and efficient manner.

Read more ›

SWA to Ship More Trash Out of County

March 6, 2017 5:22 AM
SWA to Ship More Trash Out of County

The Horry County Solid Waste Authority (SWA) will be shipping more construction and demolition trash out of the county in the coming months to meet requirements of Horry County Council.

When the SWA received council permission to change its budget in order to process recyclables from Charleston County, Horry County Council told the SWA that no airspace at the SWA landfill on Hwy 90 could be lost to Charleston trash.

Since the SWA landfill is the only facility in which Horry County municipal solid waste (household garbage) is disposed, council’s concern was that the full landfill capacity be saved for Horry County residents.

In approximately five years, MSW and C&D waste from Horry County will be commingled in the SWA landfill, according to SWA officials. The landfill’s available disposal volume for Horry County trash is currently projected to run out in 2042.

In order to meet council’s requirement, SWA executive director Danny Knight told council the SWA agreed to ship C&D waste, currently disposed at the SWA, out of county in an amount equal to Charleston residual trash resulting from the SWA/Charleston County recycling contract.

“We have structured a program where we (SWA) will match ton for ton, day for day, however you want to do it, we will send that much material out of our landfill to a landfill across the river,” Knight told the Horry County Infrastructure and Regulation Committee at its September 24, 2015 meeting.

SWA then board chairman Lance Thompson reiterated Knight’s statement at the same meeting, “This will be a net neutral effect. Anything that’s coming to our landfill from the direction of Charleston County, we’re going to send out (of county) the same amount of C&D…”

After an extensive study of SWA reports related to the Charleston County recyclable contract, Grand Strand Daily determined that requirement was not being met.

Read more ›

Myrtle Beach Eminent Domain Questionable – Updated

February 27, 2017 4:48 AM
Myrtle Beach Eminent Domain Questionable – Updated

Update – Myrtle Beach City Council voted Tuesday to go forward with eminent domain proceedings to acquire the below mentioned two properties although the entire procedure remains on questionable footing.

This appears to be another example of council ignoring longstanding citizens comments in pursuit of what remains, in our opinion, a hidden agenda.

Questions are surfacing throughout Myrtle Beach and Horry County if this is really about locating a casino in downtown Myrtle Beach as the latest attempt to revitalize the area.

A new casino bill is in play in the S.C. General Assembly with specific mention that the two casinos allowed by the bill will be located on the Grand Strand. The latest justification for allowing casinos in South Carolina is to raise a continuing funding source for roads and schools.

One only has to look at the history of Atlantic City, N.J. to understand that such promises are often hollow.

We can only wait and watch developments in the superblock and surrounding areas while city elections draw ever closer.

_________________________________________________________

Questionable use of the power of eminent domains appears to be the next move as Myrtle Beach City Council looks to advance its superblock agenda.

Council is scheduled to vote on a motion to apply eminent domain to two properties in the superblock at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The following is an extract of the council agenda:

“Motion M2017-33 to authorize the City Manager and City Attorney to take the necessary legal actions to acquire properties located at 505 9th Avenue North (Tax Map #1810707016) and 801 North Kings Highway (Tax Map #1810707020), by the use of eminent domain. Such properties are to be used for public purposes, including but not limited to parks, plazas, museums and libraries.”

Read more ›

Skydive Myrtle Beach Sues Horry County, FAA in Federal Court

February 23, 2017 5:37 AM
Skydive Myrtle Beach Sues Horry County, FAA in Federal Court

Horry County, its council, appointed officials and contractors as well as officials from the Federal Aviation Administration were named as defendants in a federal tort claims lawsuit filed recently by Skydive Myrtle Beach.

The lawsuit claims Skydive Myrtle Beach was illegally closed when Horry County Council and its Department of Airports worked with the FAA to deprive Skydive Myrtle Beach of its constitutional right to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In 2014, Skydive Myrtle Beach lodged a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration against Horry County Department of Airports alleging discriminatory actions against Skydive Myrtle Beach by HCDA.

In response, Horry County Department of Airports reported to the Federal Aviation Administration that Skydive Myrtle Beach was the subject of 112 alleged safety violations while conducting business at Grand Strand Airport.

In October 2015, the FAA issued a 73 page Director’s Determination Report supposedly basing the report on those safety violations. Horry County subsequently used this report as an excuse to shut down Skydive Myrtle Beach operations at Grand Strand Airport.

Skydiving is an approved aviation activity at all airports receiving FAA grants, according to FAA guidelines. Grand Strand Airport and the Horry County Department of Airports receive FAA grants on a routine basis.

The only valid excuse for denying an approved aviation activity at an airport that receives FAA grants is for safety violations.

Read more ›

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.

Read more ›

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.

Read more ›

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.

Read more ›

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.

Read more ›

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.

Read more ›