By RUBEN LOWMAN
After a long legal battle that has taken place over several decades, Horry County officials feel they are on the verge of finally creating a permanent road maintenance fund that will withstand any future lawsuits.
Horry County Council passed second reading of an amended road maintenance fee on Tuesday, May 4, that could see officials able to access the nearly $18 million that is budgeted within the road fund for this fiscal year. The funding is used by the county to make improvements to the local infrastructure, such as paving and resurfacing roads and expanding highways where there is need for them.
“Would you mind, very briefly, kind of an executive summary… Tell the people back home what this means to Horry County,” Worley asked county attorney Arrigo Carotti.
Carotti explained that county officials have faced situations routinely over the past several decades where residents would want their roads paved because of public safety reasons and so first responders could access their homes in emergencies.
Only about 15-16 percent of roads were paved throughout the county in 2000, and now the figure is up to about 66 percent, or two-thirds of all the 1,511 miles of roads in the county. That is a very sizable increase, one that has been made possible by the more than $200 million the county has collected from the road maintenance fee since it was first introduced.
The county has implemented a $50 maintenance fee for its roads since the 1980s, but they have faced three legal challenges during that time period, including recently in Greenville County. The state Supreme Court ruled that road fees in the county were illegal, creating a snowball effect on municipalities throughout the state with similar measures in place. As a result, county officials have had to rework the legislation to conform to the legal framework outlined by the court.
Projects being carried out in the local area are the Highway 9 East Widening and the Highway 701 Widening, both of which are taking place in the Loris area and will cost around $30 million cumulatively, as well as the Highway 31 extension to the state line that will run through the Longs community. That project, the Carolina Bays Parkway widening, is estimated to cost $185 million, with $125 million already allotted for funding. All of the local projects are currently on schedule and will see a renewed focus when the disagreement is settled.
“There’s not a lot that keeps me awake at night, but this one of them that has,” said councilmember Danny Hardee.
Hardee expressed his dismay and confusion as to how any politicians or attorneys could attempt to pocket the money by suing taxpayers that was intended to help pay for public infrastructure, such as the road maintenance fund.
“In my opinion, any politician that votes, changes or helps that group of attorneys do a class action lawsuit, there is no difference in y’all and walking up the street, taking a gun out and robbing a man on the street,” said Hardee. “Because that’s what you’re doing, you’re robbing the tax paying people, but you’re doing it with words instead of a gun.”
“But in my opinion, you’re probably a little less than that man because he maybe has an addiction or something and you’re doing it just cause you can, just pure greed,” Hardee said.
The amendment will come up for third reading and final approval at the next regularly scheduled County Council meeting on Tuesday, May 17.