S.C. State Gets an ‘Incomplete’ on Budget Request

January 10, 2012

Investigative Reports

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SC State UniversityDetails may not be South Carolina State University’s strong suit, at least when it comes to budgetary matters.

The school, already under scrutiny for alleged financial mismanagement related to millions of dollars earmarked for the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center, appears to have dropped the ball by incorrectly filling out a request for $36 million to renovate a pair of structures.

The proposal appears to be part of an overall $53.9 million request in state funding by the school for the coming year, according to S.C. State’s 2012-13 budget estimate, filed with the S.C. Office of State Budget.

If approved, the request would represent a substantial increase from the $11.2 million in state dollars the school received for the current year, records show. In all, S.C. State is seeking more than $216 million for the coming year, up from $153 million this year.

Of the $36 million in capital requests S.C. State has detailed for the coming year, $24 million would go to expand and renovate its Whittaker Library and $12 million to refurbish and renovate its Turner Hall.

While S.C. State documents near the top of its proposed budget that $36 million will be needed for the two projects, it later fails to properly fill out the OSB document, neglecting to delineate such requested items as funding sources and specifics on exactly how much money is needed.

The Nerve spoke with officials from South Carolina State but the school failed to provide an explanation for the lack of information regarding what was provided to the Office of State Budget.

Last year, the school’s difficulties with the Clyburn Transportation Center were highlighted extensively. The $107 million project – intended to serve as a transportation research center, a research facility for large trucks, the archive of James Clyburn’s papers, and a garage for Santee Wateree Regional Transportation Authority’s bus fleet – has proven to be a financial black hole.

Recent reports by the media and the Legislative Audit Council revealed that the project was sputtering along with no viable funding plan, delayed construction and poor oversight.

A report by the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, detailed that the federally established program was so mismanaged that in 2006 S.C. State lost its designation as a federal transportation center, along with federal dollars that came with that title.

In addition, the school did not have a viable plan to raise the more than $80 million needed to complete the center.

The Orangeburg’s school recent budget request also lacks clarity in parts.

Consider the proposed Whittaker Library project:

In its OSB budget estimate, South Carolina State has written under “statement of need”: “To design and replace an entire a (sic) facility that will meet the needs of the current population and all the University to improve dramatically its research and technology ability, including providing more on-line access to publications and other scholarly materials.”

The present library is too small and outdated to serve the expanded service area, the school states. Also, a report done by an outside consultant revealed more than $1 million of deferred maintenance needs on the library, mainly health and safety issues, it adds.

However, the budget estimate filed with OSB includes a request for just $94,196 in recurring state funding, and $794,827 from “other funds.”

There is no explanation as to why the school requested $24 million in state funds for the library renovation higher up in its OSB filing, why there’s a discrepancy, or where the remaining $23,110,997 will come from.

Compare that with Lander University’s budget estimate for the coming fiscal year, in which the school seeks an additional $60,278,700 for expansion and renovation projects.

The extra funding is targeted for construction of a new university athenaeum, which in the past was typically similar to a library, but today can encompass a number of uses, including a student center ($36,075,000); the renovation of Jackson Library ($13,852,975); and “critical maintenance, infrastructure and accessibility” ($10,350,725).

Lander identified the source for the approximate $60.3 million requested as bond bills, while S.C. State left a space for the requested information blank.

Another area where S.C. State came up short was on a line in the budget estimate under both projects titled “Funding.” Instead of filling in one of the three areas – “total new request,” “previously approved funds” or “expenditures to date” – with the amount of state funds being requesting, the school simply put an “X” in the “total new request” area.

Lander, by comparison, wrote in the precise amount for each of its projects in that same space.

Finally, S.C State responds to a standard appropriations-request question in ambiguous fashion. The OSB document questions whether additional annual operating costs will be absorbed into its existing budget for each project; and, if so, what areas will lose funding to facilitate the expansion.

The school’s response?

“Yes. Resources from the current library will be used for operations.”

For the $12 million proposed renovation and upgrade of Turner Hall, S.C. State answers the above question in similar fashion: “Resources from the current building will be used for operations.”

Lander states within its budget estimate that all three of its requests are to be funded from non-recurring state funds, and adds that future annual operating costs for the new athenaeum/student center, for example, will be absorbed into the university’s existing budget.

Other state schools, like Lander, also provide a more complete request for project funding in estimates filed with the Office of State Budget:

Last year, S.C. State’s total budget was $153.3 million. For 2012-13, the school is seeking $180.2 million, not including the additional $36 million.

If the money for the Whittaker Library and Turner Hall projects are approved, the school’s total budget would jump to $216.2 million, representing an overall increase of 41 percent over the current year.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.