At its June 15, 2010 meeting, Horry County Council once again passed the buck on permanent funding for Coast RTA. While the Council did ultimately provide funding for Coast RTA in its fiscal 2011 budget at that meeting, their inaction on permanent funding solutions for Coast RTA does nothing more than pawn off responsibility for this decision to the next council.
With a history of mismanagement, it is easy to understand why Council may be apprehensive about funding public transportation. But Council must not let the past taint the present and the future. The current administration of Coast RTA under Myers Rollins, Jr. has done an admirable job with limited resources. Their work in providing service to those who have no other means to get around the county to doctors appointments, college classes, and more is commendable. To those who depend on Coast RTA, lack of funding and lack of reliable service prove debilitating in maintaining their quality of life.
Since I ran for the District 2 seat on Horry County Council in 2006, I have attended nearly all of the regular council meetings. This year’s budget process and debate has been my fifth as an observer. Each year, Horry County Council has debated public funding for Coast RTA without ever developing a permanent solution, despite Chairman Gilland’s attempt to dedicate one mil during this time. Each year, numerous supporters of Coast RTA have pleaded with County Council for continued funding of this vital public service. To be fair, Horry County Council has provided that funding, thus enabling Coast RTA to access millions of dollars in federal funds. During the last five budget debates, however, no one has come before Horry County Council and stood at the well in Council chambers to denounce funding for Coast RTA. Most members of County Council also publicly agree the necessity of funding public transportation.
Why then are a few Council members playing politics with this issue that is vital to so many constituents in Horry County? The non-binding referendum approved by Council, after much debate, asking taxpayers if they support funding public transportation is a waste of taxpayer time and money as well as Council’s time. The opponents of Coast RTA hope that the public will vote against funding for public transportation. This will give the Council an excuse to pull the plug on Coast. If the voters, however, support public funding, as they should, Council will be in the same position of attempting to find a permanent funding solution for Coast and potentially other forms of public transportation in the future.
Coast RTA, like most public transport systems, is not financially self sufficient. Therefore, additional funding must come from either the public or private sector. I whole-heartedly advocate that the private sector support public transportation by whatever means possible. Private giving to this cause is admirable. County Council, working with private industry, the local municipal elected leaders, and citizens groups, can achieve great success in funding public transportation with both private and public funds. But in the final analysis, public transportation is largely a governmental function, in this case at the local level.
Horry County Council, should it choose to fund public transportation, has three options available. First, County Council can continue to muddle along each year as they have done these last five years, scrambling to find the necessary funding in the budget to help this service. Second, the Council can dedicate a mil (or a portion of a mil) of property taxes as permanent funding for public transportation. This would either entail taking funding from another department (public safety, etc.) or increasing property taxes. Third, an increase in the sales tax (much like in Charleston) could provide dedicated funding for public transportation. Obviously, a tax increase is unpalatable to County Council whether it is an election year or not.
I have challenged Council members in the past to try to go about their daily lives for one week, relying only on public transportation. It is a challenge that I maintain will convince those skeptics of the need for reliable, consistent public transportation. The choices regarding funding for public transportation are not going to change. Horry County Council was elected to make difficult decisions. Council should do its job and make the commitment to permanently fund public transportation in Horry County, not just for the here and now but for future generations as well.
The writer, a candidate for Horry County Council District 2 in 2006, lives in Myrtle Beach.