FLORENCE, S.C. — The Florence City Council’s criticisms of the Florence County Council continued Monday at the city council’s monthly meeting.
The criticism began near the end of a discussion about the Pee Dee Regional Transit Authority that followed a presentation about the state of the transit authority by interim Executive Director Don Strickland.
“Everybody has thanked you [Strickland] and told you what a good job you all are doing,” Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela said. “Of course, since the Phoenicians invented money, there’s only been one genuine way to say thank you. …”
Wukela was paraphrasing Groucho Marx when he referenced the Phoenicians.
Phoenicia was an ancient civilization similar to ancient Greece in that it had city-states — the most notable was Carthage — based in modern Lebanon. The Phoenicians are also noted for being the inventors of an alphabet that became the basis for the Greek alphabet — the word “alphabet” is derived from the first two letters, alpha and beta, of the Greek one — which, in turn, became the basis for the Latin alphabet.
The Latin alphabet spread with the growth of Christianity in Europe to become the basis for most European languages including English.
Wukela added that the whole council was cognizant of how much it costs to run the transportation authority. He noted that the city has increased its allocation to the authority over the years as the authority’s mission has changed from a disabilities transportation service to a full-fledged transportation network serving most of the Pee Dee region.
Strickland’s report, Wukela continued, helped the council see the need for contributing to the authority.
Wukela’s comment about money led Councilman George D. Jebaily, the council member serving on the PDRTA board, to discuss the idea of leveraging local grants to obtain federal money.
As he explained, when the authority receives a local grant, there’s usually an opportunity for an 80% match from the federal government.
Basically, the more local money the authority receives, the more federal money it receives.
“PDRTA has historically not been able to access all of the federal money available, because we haven’t had enough local match,” Jebaily said.
Mayor Pro Tempore Frank J. “Buddy” Brand II followed Jebaily by asking Strickland how much money the county contributes to the authority.
Strickland replied $13,600.
Brand then asked City Manager Drew Griffin how much the city gives.
Griffin estimated almost $250,000.
Wukela then asked Strickland how much Francis Marion University gives.
Strickland answered $45,000.
“I rest my case,” Brand said.
Wukela said he wasn’t going to make the point about the county, because he had recently gotten in trouble for “beating up the county.”
During a speech at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon in which he announced he wouldn’t be seeking a fourth-term as mayor, Wukela criticized the county for the allocation of funds raised by a county capital project sales tax and collected by a county road maintenance fee.
Wukela maintains that approximately 65% percent of the revenue from both is generated within the city, but the city receives less than half of that amount to repair the nearly 100 miles of roadways it must maintain since the state department of transportation stopped accepting new streets in the 1980s.
There is currently no mechanism for the city to fund these repairs.
Wukela also previously leveled many of the same criticisms at a Florence Rotary Club meeting.
Griffin also spoke about the issue at another chamber event held in the spring.
And Wukela also testified for the need for a similar capital project sales tax for municipalities during the most recent legislative session.
“I will tell you this,” Jebaily added at Monday’s meeting. “PDRTA had to drop a route because we couldn’t get funding and the route had to be dropped. It was a shame that that had to happen.”
Jebaily added that the authority was always hoping for more funding.
Councilwoman Teresa Myers Ervin added she hoped everyone— the city and the county—could look at what they’re currently doing and how much revenue the authority is generating to figure out how to better help the authority.