From the economy to Front Street parking to the creation of a city-focussed Chamber of Commerce, the candidates running for Georgetown City Council tackled the issues during a 90 minute debate Tuesday evening.
Held inside the newly renovated Winyah Auditorium and sponsored by the Georgetown Business Association and Georgetown Times, the debate featured questions submitted by Times’ readers.
The two newcomers — Republican Jim Moody and petition candidate Carol Jayroe — face incumbents Rudolph Bradley, Clarence Smalls and Peggy Wayne, all Democrats, in the Nov. 8 election.
The forum was attended by about 100 people and was aired on WGTN-AM 1400. It was also shown live on Southern Coastal Cable channel 12.
One-cent sales tax
An idea floated by Moody was the creation of a one-cent sales tax in the city which would be used to offset property taxes.
He said that would mean tourists would help foot the bills for the city.
Wayne was the only other candidate to mention Moody’s idea during the debate.
She said she is unsure if she could support such a new tax.
“It’s something council has never talked about,” she said.
Another topic that came up during the debate is the treatment of businesses by City Hall and accusations the city is not “business friendly.”
Moody said the city has a lot of work to do to be more friendly towards businesses located in Georgetown and businesses looking to locate in the city. He said the numerous fees and regulations is the main reason the city seems to be anti-business.
During his closing remarks, Bradley said people can make a difference in that perception.
“If you say Georgetown is not business friendly, do something to make it business friendly,” Bradley said. “Sometimes we place blame of government when the problem is you because we are all the government.”
The topic was raised as the candidates answered a question about whether the city has good communications with the public and other governmental bodies.
Bradley said since he has been on council he has not seen a problem with communications between city officials and members of the public but, he added, there is always room for improvement.
Jayroe said she believes there is good communication from City Hall but things would be even better if more people attended council meetings.
Most candidates agreed a "management audit" of city administration needs to be conducted.
Wayne said the city has an audit every year but if there are problems, council needs to know it.
Smalls said the city recently hired a new auditor and he wants to see what they have to say.
Bradley said he favors a management audit but added he has seen no malfeasance within City Hall since he has been in office.
Jayroe said she does not have all the information needed to make such a decision but will determine if such an audit is needed if she is elected.
Moody said such audits are needed.
"If I am voted in, I will look at ways to see if we can do it," he said.
Front Street parking
One of the questions centered around the possibility of a multi-level parking garage for Front Street.
Smalls said he knows the city needs to do more about parking but did not favor a garage.
Bradley said he is not totally against the idea but would not support a garage being built by the city. It would have to be a private endeavor.
Jayroe said “no” to a garage, adding the city “needs to be more creative” in finding solutions to the problem.
Moody also said he does not support a garage but likes the idea of some sort of shuttle service for the Downtown area.
Wayne said she wants a full uniformed police officer on Front Street and the addition of parking meters. She said the officer would be paid with money from the meters.
All five candidates were in total agreement in their opposition of the creation of a new Chamber of Commerce focussed solely on the City of Georgetown.
Moody said the Georgetown Business Association and County Chamber can be used to market the city and that is all that is needed.
Smalls also said he does not see the need of a city chamber but supports an economic development director for the city.
Should business owners vote?
The candidates had mixed opinions about whether people who own businesses in the city, but live elsewhere, should be allowed to vote in city elections.
Wayne said if someone owns a business “I invite you to move to Georgetown. Residents should have the voice of who is on council.”
Smalls agreed with Wayne.
Bradley said "the city government is to serve the residents of Georgetown," adding business owners can call him with any problems they have.
Jayroe said she has no idea how it would work and is unsure how she feels about it. She said business owners should have a voice even if they have no vote.
Moody said a business owner owns property in the city and should have a vote.
Even though he voted in favor of encroachment fees — money charged to businesses for the use of the city’s portion of the sidewalks in front of the buildings — Smalls said he is not so sure he made the right choice.
He said he wants to revisit the issue at a future council meeting.
“We don’t need to be charging these folks,” he said.
Bradley said the fees are needed because of liability issues. He said taxpayers would have to pay of someone gets hurt on a sidewalk and sues the city.
Wayne, Jayroe and Moody all said they are against the charging of the fees.
By Scott Harper