For the second time in two years, Charleston County Council is losing its chairman to the Statehouse. In 2006, Leon Stavrinakis moved on to represent James and Johns islands in the legislature, and now County Council Chairman Tim Scott is running unopposed in November for a seat representing portions of Charleston and Berkeley counties. But before the council can pick a leader, voters have to pick the council. Four county races will be on the ballot; three are competitive.
The City Paper asked candidates running to lay out the three most important issues facing the county and their suggestions on how to address those issues. Much of the focus was on a $7.8 million shortfall in county coffers, the struggle with solid waste disposal, and growth concerns that permeate even in a slowed housing market.
Mickie Kelecy, Republican
Economic development is a concern for Kelecy, who says she'll ask business owners for their input on what services can be improved to preserve and grow the county's business stock.
"I will work to bring business to our county while helping existing companies," she says. "Both are important."
There should be more alternative traffic solutions to mounting commuter traffic, Kelecy says, including high occupancy lanes and mass transit. She also supports improving the CARTA bus system to make it more user-friendly by providing targeted access to everyday destinations.
"There's something better than building more roads," she says.
The county's financial troubles has Kelecy ready to look for deficiencies as well as potential for revenue growth in the budget, with an eye on cutting expenses but not services. She expects that the county will not have to impose a tax increase.
Coakley Hilton, by petition
The continued push for new and wider roads has Hilton worried.
"My concern is that new growth doesn't come at the expense of current residents," he says.
He wants a wholistic look at developments that factors in the impact of neighboring development that follows, and the roads, schools, and other resources that will be needed.
The county also has to do a better job of listening to residents, he says, claiming that opposition to road-widening plans in Colony North were largely ignored.
As a business owner, Hilton says that he wants to ensure tax dollars are dealt with responsibly, including a line-item review that looks at the effectiveness of programs.
"You have to make sure what you're doing is adding value," he says. "If not, you have to ask yourself, 'Why are we doing this?'"
Hilton wants to see alternative transportation options — not only to accommodate growing traffic, but to eliminate some of the traffic already on the roads. He says the county can be a leader in telecommuting and possibly offer businesses incentives for doing it as well. He would also support HOV lanes and commuter rail.
"There's no one solution," he says.
Elliott Summey, Democrat
Incinerator and landfill concerns will lead County Council discussions in the coming months, says Summey. He's not sold on any particular solution, but he's hearing the concerns of neighbors worried about blight and officials worried about where the trash is going to go from here.
"We need to go into the private industry ... and educate ourselves on the best solution," he says.
Summey is calling for innovative ideas, like searching through existing waste for renewable energy and tapping incinerator waste as a local energy resource.
Nobody wants to raise taxes or cut services to address the budget shortfalls, so Summey is focused on efficiencies, the consolidation of some programs, and the utilization of energy-efficient alternatives.
The most important issue to Summey is constituent service and staying accountable and available to residents.
That includes being a partner to other counties.
"Charleston County has to be the catalyst to push local economic development initiatives forward," he says.
District 6 (West Ashley, North Charleston, James Island)
Curtis Bostic, Republican, incumbent
Bostic says the county will have to hold the line on taxes to protect residents.
"The worst time to have a tax increase is when everybody is hurting," he says.
Keeping those taxes low will also help the county draw in new business.
The council will also have to carefully weigh infrastructure decisions over the next few years, particularly with road money from the sales tax and the county's lingering waste disposal debate. Bostic urges residents to review the county's proposed waste disposal plan.
Other money the county will have to keep a close watch over is the greenbelt bank program Bostic proposed. Since its inception, the program has protected sites at risk for development with $70 million, including $40 million from private investment.
Vic Rawl, Democrat
The county budget situation is going to be a top priority for anyone elected, Rawl says. He'll seek out places to reduce spending and avoid a tax increase, possibly by surveying residents to see what services are wanted or utilized.
Rawl wants continuity in growth, relegating dense development to specific areas to provide ample open space elsewhere. Some road improvements are necessary for existing residents and shouldn't be held up by "disingenuous" complaints about growth. The county should take a leadership role in coordinating regional planning to prevent municipal fighting over annexations, he says.
The county's new Green Committee is a good step in addressing solid waste concerns, Rawl says. More attention needs to be paid to technologies available in the market and the county needs to get input from businesses with experience in the sector, like Waste Management. Considering Charleston's few options, Rawl says that other counties should be brought in to discuss the potential for regional disposal centers.
District 7 (West Ashley)
Mark Peper, Republican
The county has to move forward with necessary road projects, says Peper, including the Interstate 526 extension and improvements on Johns Island.
"We've got to be more proactive," he says.
As a criminal defense lawyer, Peper says he has seen the increase in crime in West Ashley first hand. He's proposing that homeowners association leaders get together routinely to share information and resources.
In concert with that, Peper says that the county needs to provide more resources for the county courts, possibly shifting some of the funding from the detention center so that cases are expedited, making the jail space unnecessary.
Coleen Condon, Democrat, incumbent
Half-cent sales tax projects will have to be closely scrutinized, says Condon, with a focus on aid to West Ashley roads like Glenn McConnell Parkway and Bees Ferry Road.
"We have to approve road improvements that actually provide relief," she says.
The county's financial pickle also requires sharp focus. Condon has been working on council to find money anywhere, possibly including cutting car trips and shortening work weeks to reduce fuel costs. They are also looking at ways to reduce printing and color copy costs.
"We're not going to find $7.8 million in one place," she says. "It's going to be in 10,000 little chunks."
Planning needs coordination, not only between the county and other agencies, but within county departments themselves. An example, Condon notes, are comprehensive transportation and land use plans that bump heads on some issues, like traffic solutions on rural Johns Island. Condon says the county will merge these plans to find consensus.
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