Legislative delegations control state grants totaling millions for local rec projects

September 22, 2021

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

Since 2017, powerful county legislative delegations have approved a total of more than $8 million in state grants for hundreds of local recreation projects in South Carolina, records show.

And as of mid-July, the delegations, made up of state House and Senate members representing a county, collectively had $5 million more available for future grant projects.

State law requires that each grant application be approved by a majority of the delegation representing the local government agency or special purpose district applying for the money. The S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT) must annually notify delegations of the available revenue in their respective counties’ Parks and Recreation Development (PARD) Fund, and provide a list of eligible government entities in their counties, as determined by PRT.

Delegations approved 342 PARD projects statewide from July 1, 2017, through the end of fiscal 2021 on June 30, with the number of projects ranging from one each in Cherokee and Lee counties to 59 in Charleston County, The Nerve found in a review of an annual PRT report provided in July to the Legislature.

Total awarded grants over the past four fiscal years ranged from $45,176 in Darlington County to $696,365 in Greenville County, The Nerve’s review found. Under the program, government entities receiving grants must cover 20% of total project costs, with the remaining 80% of allowed expenses paid by the grant through reimbursements from PRT.

In its grant application packet, PRT describes the PARD program as a project “assisted by the state of South Carolina through your county legislative delegation.”

Grant recipients from fiscal years 2018 through 2021 included towns, cities, counties and special purpose districts, according to PRT records provided this week to The Nerve. The grants covered such things as ballfield, tennis court, basketball court and gymnasium renovations; playground and shelter improvements; and trail, dock and boat landing projects.

“Each county delegation has their own method for determining which projects they approve,” PRT spokeswoman Samantha Queen said Tuesday in a written response to The Nerve. “SCPRT is not involved in this aspect of grant administration.”

The Nerve has pointed out in recent years that county delegations have broad powers, including making appointments to some school boards and most county transportation committees, which determine local road projects to fund with part of the state gasoline tax.

County delegations also play a key role in the election of master-in-equity judges, while Senate delegations control the selection process of magistrates, as The Nerve has revealed.

Last week, the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, revealed that South Carolina is one of only several states where legislative delegations exert considerable control over appointments to various government boards or commissions, or over other local government matters.

Of the approximately $13.5 million in total available PARD funding since fiscal 2018, including allocations for this fiscal year, nearly $11 million (81.4%) came from a portion of state bingo tax collections, plus interest; state appropriations made up the other collective $2.5 million (18.6%), Queen said in her written response Tuesday.

On top of more than $8.3 million in approved grants from fiscal 2018 through last fiscal year, legislative delegations as of July 13 collectively had $5.1 million left over to award, PRT records show. Under state law, $20,000 out of the PARD Fund must be allocated annually to each county, with 75% of the remainder of the fund to be split among counties based on their population.

Last December, PRT sought a $1.5 million mid-year increase in “other” funds spending for the PARD program, noting in its written request that projected grant payments for fiscal 2021 “exceed the authorization available,” according to records provided recently to The Nerve by the S.C. Department of Administration under the state’s open-records law.

“The (PARD) program allows the grantee 3 years to complete the project once the grant is awarded,” PRT said in its request, which was approved by Brian Gaines, director of the state Executive Budget Office. “Therefore, it is very difficult to determine when the grantee will request reimbursement.”

Following are the 10 counties with the largest total allocated PARD funding from July 2017 through June 2022, with delegation-approved amounts through last fiscal year in parentheses, according to PRT records:

  • Greenville: $964,760 ($696,365)
  • Richland: $836,891 ($633,308)
  • Charleston: $771,166 ($622,409)
  • Spartanburg: $644,866 ($513,685)
  • Horry: $616,089 ($496,346)
  • Lexington: $602,865 ($227,983)
  • York: $533,262 ($326,480)
  • Anderson: $458,622 ($282,900)
  • Berkeley: $440,831 ($264,823)
  • Beaufort: $410,915 ($155,508)

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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