Money Pit?

Nearly 10 years ago, Horry County voters approved a penny sales tax increase to help build new schools.

That tax, scheduled to expire after 15 years, was supposed to generate about $1 billion during its lifetime. Coastal Carolina University and Horry Georgetown Technical College were to get 20 percent of the money.

While the tax isn’t set to expire until 2023, the Horry County Board of Education has already begun beating the drum to extend the tax, claiming that it just can’t make ends meet otherwise.

Over the past eight years, this school board has repeatedly demonstrated blatant disregard for taxpayers. It has spent money recklessly and continues to do so.

When given a mountain of cash generated by the penny tax, the school board decided to spend lavishly and foolishly.

I submit the following evidence to support my case.

After the penny sales tax passed in 2008, the school board budgeted $167 million for five new schools. The bidding process began and everything appeared to be right on target.

Suddenly, in midstream, the board decided to change course after hearing a presentation by Robbie Ferris of Firstfloor Energy Positive that promoted solar-powered schools.

The board ditched its original plans, rebid the construction project based on new specs, and then accepted Firstfloor’s high bid.

The board’s decision cost taxpayers $52 million (enough money to build a sixth school, if necessary.

Not only that, the board gave the job to the high bidder, who promised all five would be completed by the start of this school year. Only three of those schools have been completed.

In fairness to Firstfloor, the school board carries much of the blame for the delay on two unfinished schools.

The board purchased one piece of property for a school that had soil conditions so bad that extra pilings had to be driven at great cost.

Another of the schools was delayed because the old school on the property had asbestos that had to be removed before new construction could begin.

The board told the public the cost of the new schools would be defrayed by their ability to generate more than enough energy using solar panels. These schools were supposed to generate enough electricity that the surplus could be sold.

Now, the public is told the solar panels may not be adequate to fully supply the energy needs of the new schools.

Here are a couple more things to remember about this school board’s fiscal recklessness.

After costing the taxpayers $52 million, the board gave its members a 66 percent pay increase, making it the highest paid school board in the state.

When it wanted to get rid of former superintendent Cindy Elsberry, the school board paid $428,000 plus benefits to buy out her contract. No explanation was ever given to the public.

Do these actions demonstrate a wise expenditure of your tax dollars?

I think not.

This school board, under Joe DeFeo’s leadership, has been secretive about its doings and wasteful of the tax dollars it receives.

In 2008, taxpayers agreed to pay a penny more in sales tax to pay for new schools. As I see it, they have been betrayed by this school board.

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Steve Robertson is owner and publisher of the Waccamaw Publishers family of community newspapers

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