Lost and not found: local colleges missing pricey equipment

By Matthew Nordin - bio | email

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Thousands of dollars of equipment is missing from Grand Strand and Pee Dee college campuses at a time when there's less state money to replace it all, according to the results of a WMBF News investigation.

The missing items range from computers to chainsaws. The losses are anywhere from $50 to more than $2500 for a single item.

"These are not our assets. They're the assets of the public," said Harold Hawley, the Vice President of Business Affairs at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Conway. "And it's our fiduciary responsibility to protect them. And that's why we take this so seriously."

Hawley's college is missing 13 pieces of equipment, which is worth $19,406.08. They include six laptops, one desktop computer, two sympodiums (computer and lectern combinations used by instructors), and four chainsaws.

Hawley says many of the items were stolen, including the chainsaws.

"That was an actual physical break-in," he said. "So we have evidence that it was, in essence, theft. And they will probably end-up in a pawn shop somewhere or at a yard sale trying to be disposed of."

Coastal Carolina University is missing more property but claims its losses are lower than Horry-Georgetown Tech's. CCU is missing 16 items, according to spokeswoman Martha Hunn.

If you went by the original price tag, the missing computers and projector would be worth $20,094.05. However, Hunn points out the items aren't new. In fact, a couple of the computers date back to the 1990's. So the university says the equipment is now only worth $2,475.

The losses come at a time when college administrators are having to deal with tight-fisted state legislators, who are dealing with a budget crisis in Columbia. Hawley says Horry-Georgetown Tech has suffered a loss of about 50% of its state funding over the last five years. He says that equals "north of $4 million."

Over in Florence, Francis Marion University reports only six missing items, worth $1950. The most expensive piece of equipment that's missing is a Canon digital camcorder worth $1200.

An FMU spokeswoman provided figures showing that's a minuscule amount of the total property on-campus, a point made by CCU's Hunn, as well.

"CCU believes it has a handle on the inventory process based on the low percentage of missing items," said Hunn.

Still, Hawley acknowledges that in the current budget climate, any loss can be a big one.

"You just simply don't have the funds to replace them," he said.

That's apparently not an issue for Florence-Darlington Tech. Their spokesman tells WMBF News they have no missing equipment.

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