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The COMET responds to Penny Tax program audit

Transportation
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Officials at the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority have responded to an audit of the Richland County Transportation Penny Program alleging that $1.4 million in funds were misused. The audit was conducted by the S.C. Department of Revenue.

“The COMET has always been, and will continue to be, committed to being open and transparent,” said a post on The COMET website.

The transit authority was notified that $1.4 million of the $99 million in Transportation Penny Program funds spent since July 2013 was determined potentially ineligible for use in the 2017 audit, the results of which were released in February.

“That is only 1.4% of the amount,” The COMET said in the response.

The Comet’s fiscal year 2019-2020 annual budget (.pdf) reports 63.27% of its operating funding comes from Richland County Transportation Penny Program tax revenue. The budget also says that penny program funds are capped at $300,991,000 or 22 years, and the cap is expected to be reached in 2028.

The budget references requesting that the county extend the program for seven years.

The COMET also said most of the potentially ineligible expenses are a result of the 2015 contract between the organization and Transdev Transit Services Inc.

Transdev is under contract (.pdf) to provide a fixed route and mobility program management services. 

“The COMET proactively withheld $245,000 of those funds,” the statement said.

The Comet also said it is looking into and providing additional information regarding the appropriateness of the $1.4 million in penny transportation tax funds. When asked for comment, officials at The Comet referred to the statement posted online.

The COMET said it has been participating openly as an adjunct to a lawsuit between Richland County and the S.C. Department of Revenue. The county sued the DOR to recover transportation tax revenues the department withheld.  The DOR audited The Comet’s expenses between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2018, and the organizations have been discussing several expenditures which were determined ineligible for penny tax funds.

Earlier this month, Richland County announced it was taking over the Transportation Penny Program from a private program development team. In 2018, Richland County Council voted to suspend work on questioned projects after the state Supreme Court ruled that some of the program’s tax revenue had been improperly used.

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