School bus legislation could cost Horry County

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County School Board Members are worried a bill in the South Carolina Legislature could have negative a negative impact on their budget.

In a speech last month, Governor Nikki Haley said she wants to strip the state of South Carolina of any responsibilities related to school bus operation.

"What we want to do is we want to turn school buses over to the local districts," Haley said. "Let them decide what's best, the state needs to get out of the school bus system. We need to focus on educating children"

Haley said she wants individual school districts to assume control of the bus system in an effort to cut costs at the state level and make government more efficient.

But some Horry County School Board members worry about the potential negative impact, after learning in a meeting Monday night it would cost roughly 16 million additional dollars more per year to run and maintain their own buses, on top of an additional 39 million dollars to purchase school buses.

School board member Trent Hardee said the bill could lead to tax increases to make up the difference.

"We don't want taxes to go up," Hardee said.  "And we know right now we can definitely run things more efficiently if it's one person in control of the whole state [bus system] as opposed to 46"

The alternative, said Horry County Government Relations Officer Mark Kelley, is hiring private companies to run and maintain buses, which he said could lead to strong arm negotiating tactics at the expense of kids getting to school.

"You [have to] be careful they're not coming in at a lowball number and 3, or 5, or 10 years later," Kelley said.  "You don't have any buses so you could be kind of held hostage by these companies"

Kelley said the legislature has discussed the idea of sending money back to counties to help pay the cost, but at this point it's unclear how much assistance they could offer. School board members said the tax revenue stream in Horry County would likely be able to support this measure but less financially stable districts could face more difficulty.

Dillon District 4 Superintendent Ray Rogers said their school system is already facing financial difficulties and he worries the school district simply can not afford to run their own buses.

The School Bus Privatization Act, also known as House Bill 4610, is currently being considered in the State of Representatives in the Ways and Means Committee.

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