Editorial: Avoiding responsibility

  • Thursday, March 28, 2013

Not me. No, I didn’t do it. That was somebody else’s fault. Bil Keane drew several cartoon strips over the decades, starting “The Family Circus” in 1960. It continues with son Jeff. One of the familiar characters is the ghost-like, never-seen “Not Me” who does things that the parents never see but the kids do.
Today, we’re seeing the same sort of reaction from several of the defendants in the ongoing drainage project and sinkhole saga in Georgetown.
The work had a starting price tag of about $14 million. It’s supposed to handle most of the flooding that has been a routine occurrence near City Hall in Georgetown.
A part of the project included pumping water from under the ground — at times at the rate of 60,000 gallons per day — so that a drainage pond and pipes could be laid.
Along the way, at least seven identified sinkholes formed. The city’s 216,000-pound water tank by City Hall was drained and will almost certainly need to be replaced. It weighs about 2.5 million pounds when filled with some 250,000-plus gallons of water.
The project is largely being funded by the South Carolina Department of Transportation with the City of Georgetown providing a local match.
The former UPS Store and other businesses in Parrish Place were destroyed when a sinkhole formed under the building and a major portion collapsed.
Parrish Motor Company, City Fire, the Bank of America, the $21-million county Judicial Center, county library, a Citgo gas station and several other smaller businesses and at least one home were also damaged.
Testing by F&ME Consultants of Columbia was detailed in a 452-page report.
That study doesn’t assign blame, but says that the de-watering process and installation of king piles were major contributors to the depressions or sinkholes.
We’ve long said that rather than worry about blame, the problems should be fixed and the various responsible parties should make the damaged buildings and roads “whole.”
A series of six lawsuits have been filed so far. DOT’s response and S&ME Inc. have each indicated it’s somebody else’s fault, not theirs.
Part of the sad state of affairs in this mess is that the drainage project is still not complete, millions of dollars have already been lost, there’s no doubt an increased cost in the drainage project itself, and the taxpayers will end up having to foot the bill.
Lawyers are often necessary and helpful in many situations, but it sounds like the only ones who will end up to the good in this circumstance will be the lawyers.
Even though the City of Georgetown and Georgetown County have not as yet filed any lawsuits and say their costs will be covered by insurance, that’s a kind of misdirection.
Both governmental bodies participate in self-insurance pools. They pay a specified amount each year into a fund, along with other governments. If a claim has to be paid, the funds come from that pool.
However, the misdirection comes about because the fee or “premium” is increased in following years to cover any shortfall from what the city or county has already paid into the fund and what amount is collected for damages.
Purely as a hypothetical example, if the county pays $250,000 annually into the South Carolina Reinsurance Facility but it takes $500,000 to cover the cost of repairs to the Judicial Center and county library, then the fee or “premium” over the next year or so will go up to cover the difference.
Cities and counties have separate self-funded pools that each work to accomplish this shared risk management. But for the taxpayer, the bottom line is that the budget line item in this hypothetical example would be $250,000 one year for insurance and $500,000 the next year.
The taxpayers end up paying for the cost whether there’s a lawsuit or not.
But if the various entities all say “Not me” and the case has to go to court, the attorneys are paid their fees — ultimately by the taxpayers — and the taxpayers still end up having to pay the costs of the self-insured funds.
Robert Arial’s editorial cartoon above was drawn when there were earlier complaints against DOT about not using its funds properly.
Perhaps that same complaint is still valid?

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