Wednesday, October 16, 2013
The candidates running for the mayor's seat and three expiring city council positions in Georgetown got together to answer questions about issues facing the city Monday night.
The forum, sponsored by the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce and the Georgetown Business Association, was free of heated exchanges which allowed the issues to be the main focus as voters decide who to elect on Nov. 5.
The debate was held in two parts. First Mayor Jack Scoville, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger – Richard Powers – took the stage to answer eight main questions prepared by Chamber and GBA members. Then the city council candidates answered the same questions.
The council candidates are Democrat incumbents Brendon Barber, Jeanette Ard and newcomer Doris Simmons. The Republicans are incumbent Paige Sawyer and newcomers Carol Jayroe and Ed Kimbrough.
Powers, the owner of two boat dealerships, said he wants to work to make Georgetown a place his children can return to after graduating from college.
“If they graduated today, there are no jobs for them to come home to. We have to look for ways to bring jobs here and that takes a team of people. True leadership knows that,” Powers said.
Scoville said because of the recent Front Street fire, there will be a lot of work for council in the upcoming months.
“You cannot have a complete novice running this city for the next four years. This fire presents a great challenge and opportunity,” Scoville said.
Making City Hall more user friendly was something both Powers and Kimbrough said they will strive to make happen if elected.
“We have to put more civility in City Hall. It doesn't matter who you are, everybody's issue is important,” said Powers. “If we are not business friendly people will not come here. If they see infighting, they will not come.”
Kimbrough said “civility in government is imperative. I hope tonight is the beginning of a unified group for change and progress.”
Scoville said City Hall was not business friendly when he was elected mayor but he has worked to make things better.
One of the questions was whether the candidates would support allowing alcoholic beverages on the Harborwalk in the same manner they are allowed on the Marshwalk in Murrells Inlet.
Every candidate said they have no problem with allowing drinks on the boardwalk but, they added, there need to be some stipulations.
“Alcohol can be a problem for some people and can lead to bad things. But I believe people should have a choice. I don't want to see beer cans walking down the street but having a beer cup, I am OK with it,” Powers said.
Scoville said restaurants are already allowed to serve alcohol at the tables on the sidewalks outside their businesses. He said he supports people having drinks on the boardwalk “as long as they behave themselves.”
Ard added there would need to be police presence to keep people from destroying property.
Kimbrough said a law change “is way past due” because it would make it easier for patrons to get from one restaurant and bar to the other.
Sawyer said he is OK with the idea as long as “the wishes and concerns” of the residents who live in the apartments are taken into consideration.
The candidates were asked to explain how they plan to attract new businesses to Georgetown.
Scoville said that was one of the main reasons he pushed for the recent hiring of Tee Miller as the city's Economic Development Director. He said Miller talks with business owners and tries to convince them to locate in Georgetown.
He also said the city continues to work with Richmond Realty to try to annex the wooded property next to Tractor Supply. He said that could be the future site of a Lowe's or Home Depot.
Powers said the city needs to change its mentality if it wants to be a business attraction. He said city leaders need to go to business shows and offer things to bring them in. He said there are a lot of retired CEOs in the area that could offer great advice and expertise.
Kimbrough said not only does the city need to go after new businesses but programs need to be put in place to help existing businesses expand.
Simmons said, if elected, she plans to talk with business owners and employees to get ideas about how to improve the commercial environment. She said council needs to find out why so many stores are vacant.
Sawyer said Georgetown County is well known for its union labor.
“We have to rid ourselves of the union labor title so more people see us as business friendly,” Sawyer said.
Barber said “we need to reinvest our energy and interest” into the dredging of the Port of Georgetown.
“There is no reason that could not be a great satellite port,” Barber said. “The key point is education. Let's work effectively with our school district so that we can have a workforce that is ready when the businesses do come.”
Jayroe said all cities are competing for the same jobs and businesses. She said even though Georgetown “is a $30 million business” there is no marketing in place to attract businesses or tourists.”
She said the city needs a marketing budget and a marketing firm to work hand-in-hand with Miller.
Ard said she has worked with a committee that has put together an RFP for marketing the city. She said the city's website will be upgraded because that “is the most useful tool a city can have to bring in people.”
One of the questions described the business license in Georgetown as “a progressive tax based on revenue instead of a flat rate.” The candidates were asked if they agree with the current setup or if they prefer an alternative.
“It is a tax. It is not a fee. It drives me crazy when they call it that,” Powers said. He said the city needs to make it easier to do business suggesting the possibility of a freeze on some of the fees “for a couple of years.”
He said maybe business owners could use that money to hire more workers.
Scoville said if the fees were frozen there would need to be a tax increase for residents or more cuts in order to recoup the loss.
He said he would like the county to create a business license program because right now the county has a competitive advantage over the city.
Barber said he has no problem letting experts study the issue to see if there is a viable alternative “so we are not taking a hit in the general fund budget.”
Jayroe said the current system punishes people for being successful since the amount charged for the license is based on profits earned.
“It needs to be equitable,” she said.
Ard and Kimbrough both said they support a flat business license fee while Simmons said “we all need to get together and talk about the pros and cons and decide what's best for the city.”
Sawyer said he supports studying the flat fee but added the city needs to look at all of its non-taxable property such as the hospital, schools, churches, cemeteries and the Sheriff's Office.
Each of the candidates said “no” when asked if the city should provide financial help for the victims of the fire if their insurance does not cover all the costs.
Scoville said the city is working at trying to obtain grants to help with making any changes that are required because of the flood zone laws. He said city funds cannot be used to help rebuild private property.
Powers said if the city were to help with the private property costs it would open Pandora's Box.
“If you help one person you would have to help others,” Powers said.
Jayroe said she would not be given public funds to help rebuild if her house burned down.
Ard, whose business and apartment were destroyed by the fire, agreed.
“The city should not build my building back,” she said.
There was a lightning round of questions where the candidates were allowed to answer only yes or no.
• All the candidates, except Scoville, answered “yes” when asked if they would consider a budget in the neighborhood of $400,000 for marketing the city.
• Every candidate, except Barber, said they would support a change to non-partisan elections.
• All said they do support an RFP process to solicit bids from private sector companies for electrical and water service and trash collection. “Yes, but see me after the debate,” was Barber's response.
• Only Kimbrough and Jayroe said they support making Broad Street the main entrance to the Downtown area and Historic District.
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