Our view

‘Pennies’ earns positive marks in audit

May 6, 2014 

  • In summary

    Comprehensive review of Pennies for Progress program offers generally positive results.

While York County’s Pennies for Progress program has encountered its share of problems since first approved by voters in 1997, a recent audit of the program offers a reassuringly positive view of the way it has been managed over the years.

Although Pennies has been active for 17 years, with voters renewing it twice, this was the first comprehensive review of the program. County Manager Bill Shanahan requested the audit in mid-December, just weeks after the cost of a downtown Rock Hill road project went 55 percent over cost.

The overrun was the result of the failure in 2009 to account for $1.5 million in design costs for White Street improvements. That clerical error went unnoticed for years but came back to bite the county in late 2013.

The review also found that the county was double-billed for nearly $141,000 while reimbursing Rock Hill for utility relocation in the White Street project. But such errors were uncommon in the report by the accounting firm.

Pennies for Progress has hit snags in management, construction delays and cost overruns, especially early on. Cost estimates for the 1997 and 2003 projects were plagued by overruns, and the county had to seek money from alternative sources, including grants, to make up the difference. The bypass along S.C. 5 took years longer than projected to complete.

The county originally hired private firms to manager Pennies projects. But with faulty cost estimates and overruns, the county staff took over management itself in 2007. Phil Leazer, an engineer with the county at the time, was named project manager.

Since then, things have run more smoothly. The auditors suggested that the county consider hiring an additional project coordinator to oversee the program, ostensibly to improve communication with other entities involved in the projects, including the state Department of Transportation.

That, no doubt, would be beneficial. The more communication, the better, and the less likelihood of mistakes like the misstep on design costs and the double billing.

By and large, however, we think York County voters can pat themselves on the back for keeping this program going for nearly two decades. Without Pennies, the county never would have had the volume of road improvements it has had over the years.

Where do we go from here? Worthwhile road projects no doubt remain.

But much of the talk these days is about the importance of road maintenance. We hope that while the county looks at potential new road projects, it can work with the state to come up with creative ways to fix the roads we already have.

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