By Paul Gable
Horry County is preparing to sue the State of South Carolina if the General Assembly passes into law legislation currently before the General Assembly that would eliminate the Horry County Solid Waste Authority’s flow control monopoly of the county’s solid waste stream.
In a far reaching debate last week on flow control, home rule and revenue streams, the county Administration Committee passed a motion to put a resolution before full council directing the county administrator and attorney to begin searching for a law firm to represent the county. The catch phrase is “The Don’t Tread on Me” resolution.
As usual in Horry County, when the debate is on the SWA and/or flow control, the committee and council are framing the wrong debate.
This wouldn’t even be an issue if county council exercised the slightest bit of oversight and control of the SWA.
Established by county ordinance 60-90 to operate the county landfill, the SWA has grown into a garbage monolith with over $35 million in the bank and complete control over waste disposal in the county.
At times the SWA presents itself as an ‘arm’ of county government. At other times, and in court documents, the SWA presents itself as an independent, non-profit, public benefit corporation that owns the landfill and other properties within the county.
Whether it can even make a claim to owning the landfill is questionable since the SWA agreed to pay the county, when it could afford to, for the landfill and other assets transferred to it in 1990. There is no record of this payment ever being made.
The SWA budget is presented as a section of the Horry County budget every year and it is presented as an ‘Enterprise Fund’ of the county. This is exactly the same financial structure as the Horry County Department of Airports, which is unquestionably a department within county government with strong oversight from county council.
The county administrator hires and directs the airport director. The SWA board hires the SWA executive director and I would argue nobody oversees or directs him.
There is a county directive that requires the SWA to get council approval of expenditures over $50,000. Yet, by its own admission, the SWA spent over $400,000 lobbying against flow control legislation last year without any council approval.
If council is going to argue home rule, it should at least practice it. If council wants to fight the state in court, it should at least be carrying the fight for one of its own departments.
It should not carry the fight for some quasi-governmental authority over which it exercises no real control about day to day, or even year to year operations and decisions.
Council should be arguing home rule for governmental services it needs to provide to the public, if it argues it at all. At one point last week, the debate even ventured into the realm of the SWA buying trucks and getting into the hauling business in direct competition with Waste Management and Waste Industries. What’s next, is county council going to go into competition with Boeing at its purported airport technology park?
There are better ways for county government to spend public tax dollars than hiring a bunch of lawyers to represent the flow control interests of a shadowy authority that, in my opinion, should not even exist.
This debate has a long way to go. It will be interesting to see just how much light county council shines on the operations, funding and decisions of the SWA as the debate progresses.