York County Council candidates talk issues

October 31, 2012 

Three seats on the York County Council are contested in the Nov. 6 general election. Here are the candidate’s answers about issues facing the county.

Three seats on the York County Council are contested in the Nov. 6 general election. Here are the candidate’s answers about questions [first published in The Herald] about issues facing the county:

What have you done or what can you do to bring jobs to York County and lower the county’s 10.5 percent unemployment rate?

District 2

Incumbent Bruce Henderson and petition candidate John Rinehart , both Republicans, are competing to represent Clover, Lake Wylie and central York County.

Henderson: Says he has succeeded at letting businesses know “you don't have to fear us.” Says he has made suggestions to economic development officials on how to reach out to businesses. “We've got to bend over backward without selling the farm.” Rejected changes to the county development rules, which had been in the works since 2009 as a way to streamline the development process and update outdated regulations. Says the plan moving forward is to reduce the code’s size “drastically.”

Rinehart: Hears council members say they have had meetings with state commerce officials, but asks, “What has happened since you had lunch together?” Calls for the county to follow a “master plan” for economic development and retention of businesses. Council members must promote the county’s assets effectively, such as its tourism industry, proximity to the airport, and local investment in highways. When businesses settle nearby but not in York County, Rinehart says, “I want to know why we were not able to close the deal.”

District 4

Incumbent Bump Roddey and petition candidate Roy Blake , both Democrats, are competing to represent most of southern Rock Hill.

Roddey: "Jobs are always going to be number one." Saluda Street in Rock Hill is seeing a "downside" right now. "I want Saluda Street to have the same feel of Cherry Road and Dave Lyle." Favors the county using "special service" packages, which could include charging corporations fees in lieu of taxes and completing infrastructure improvements near new development. Says the county's decision to set aside collected business license fees to invest in a "spec" building is "brilliant, forward thinking."

Blake: "We need jobs, jobs and more jobs, regardless, to put people back to work.” York County could be and should be more aggressive in attracting high-paying employers which usually gravitate to Mecklenburg County. "We should reserve some of our corridors that are closer to the interstate, especially large parcels of land.” Business parks are useful in the county already, but some business leaders with large land parcels around the county could dedicate their own land for investment in the "Interstate Corridor."

District 6

Chairman Britt Blackwell and petition candidate Gary Williams , both Republicans, are competing to represent northern Rock Hill and Newport.

Blackwell: Says he has helped “eliminate red tape” for businesses in rejecting changes to the county's development rules which he said weren’t “business friendly.” He has also lobbied state commerce officials to pay more attention to York County. Says he’s pushing lowering the state’s manufacturing property tax rate from 10 to 6 percent as a legislative priority of the S.C. Association of Counties, where he serves on a policy steering committee. He attributes the county’s economic success not to any one person, but to team work.

Williams: Says the council is making “token efforts” to attract businesses. “We need land,” utility infrastructure and empty buildings ready for businesses to relocate, he said. In addition to tax breaks, the county should engage existing businesses in providing businesses incentives for relocating here, such as asking a utility company to offer reduced utility rates. The council should have invited CEOs attending the Democratic National Convention to the county for a “Southern barbecue” or some other event showcasing the county.

Is York County’s $32 million surplus fund too large? Do you think some of that reserve money should be used for something else, and if so, what?

District 2

Incumbent Bruce Henderson and petition candidate John Rinehart, both Republicans, are competing to represent Clover, Lake Wylie and central York County.

Henderson: Says if the economy improves and becomes “steady,” he’d consider voting to return the county’s reserve dollars – whatever’s in excess of 25 percent of the county’s general fund – to taxpayers. Also would consider using it to “offset a tax increase,” if the county needed to draw from reserves to prevent an increase in taxes. Says he doesn’t advocate spending it just because it’s there.

Rinehart: Says he doesn’t know the details of the county budget’s income and expenses, but he says he wouldn’t think it unusual if the county’s reserve fund was about half its operating budget, because the county is like a business, which would have enough reserves to sustain through a downturn for six months to a year.

District 4

Incumbent Bump Roddey and petition candidate Roy Blake, both Democrats, are competing to represent most of southern Rock Hill.

Roddey: Says the $32 million will probably be tapped soon because the county is spending more than budgeted. He supported loaning some money to keep Pennies for Progress road construction programs going and would support doing that again. Says he’d also like to see the money help pay for another park on Lake Wylie or for property tax relief, or to let the reserve fund “be on standby.”

Blake: Says the pool of cash allows the county to score good interest rates on bonds needed for capital improvements. “It’s sort of like an emergency fund. That’s a sign of the county being sustainable.” Doesn’t want to spend too much of the money and fall into a financial “hand-to-mouth” situation. “You can tap into it when your revenues do not come up to expenses.”

District 6

Chairman Britt Blackwell and petition candidate Gary Williams, both Republicans, are competing to represent northern Rock Hill and Newport.

Blackwell: Says reserves must stay at or above 25 percent of the general fund, which is currently $87 million. “We have to look forward and make sure we’re financially sound, and I would much rather have the problem of having a fat reserve versus being worried about how we spend it.” The buffer “comes in handy” such as when the county “kick-started” its road building program with a loan from reserves.

Williams: Says “it is too big of a surplus, and we need to be investing in our future.” Says the county needs money in reserve for “rainy days,” but “for us to have a savings account of $40 million and not give employees a raise for three or four years is unconscionable.” Says some of the money could pay to promote the county’s economic development efforts. “That money should come back to us tenfold if we invest in our future.”

Do you agree with the direction the council is going in spending $3.1 million in bond revenue for a fire training center instead of building substations? What role should the county play in helping the county’s volunteer emergency medical services squads as new contracts are written for EMS service?

District 2

Incumbent Bruce Henderson and petition candidate John Rinehart, both Republicans, are competing to represent Clover, Lake Wylie and central York County.

Henderson: “Volunteerism” in western York County “is on life support.” Rescue squads have “no profitability.” Advocates a frequent review of the county’s contract with EMS squads. Says western York County isn’t getting the “same level of service” in terms of EMS response times. Wants to make it so “low-income people” in emergency situations get “identical service as someone in Beverly Hills.” Agrees with the county’s push for a new fire training center but only if it doesn’t cost much more than estimated.

Rinehart: Agrees with the county’s push toward a new fire training station but says the county should assess the need for fire stations. Rural fire departments are showing a “local buy-in” with efforts to raise money and attempt on their own to build substations. If, after the effort, they need more help, Rinehart said he would consider it. Said the volunteer EMS squads are “absolutely important” to the community. “We need to do all we can to make sure that the spirit of volunteerism stays in our community.” If the rescue squads have “specific needs” that must be met so they can stay active – and they’re committed to doing what it takes – then the county should consider helping, he said.

District 4

Incumbent Bump Roddey and petition candidate Roy Blake, both Democrats, are competing to represent most of southern Rock Hill.

Roddey: Has supported the council’s decision to redirect the money from substations to a new fire training facility. He says financially, it is not possible to return the bond money if the council does not approve spending the money on substations or a new training center. The county needs to be careful, he said, not to “run off” the volunteer EMS squads in favor of Piedmont’s ambulance service. However, if the council doesn’t put oversight measures in place, he said, it creates a race to the scene and generates animosity among EMS squads. “We can come up with a better plan to utilize our resources.”

Blake: Likes the idea of using the money for a new fire training facility. He noted that other rural fire departments have in the past used fundraising or special fire tax districts to build stations. “As tough as it might be, whatever the rest of the volunteer firefighters took for building stations and maintaining it, should be the route that these other ones should take also.” Says he wouldn’t completely rule out returning the bond money and cutting the debt. He thinks the new ambulance service coordination using GPS should limit the problems with “double exposure,” when more than one EMS service provider responded to a scene. County contracts and oversight are a way to “utilize manpower,” he said, rather than eliminating the volunteer squads who he thinks are doing a good job.

District 6

Chairman Britt Blackwell and petition candidate Gary Williams, both Republicans, are competing to represent northern Rock Hill and Newport.

Blackwell: Supports the county’s firefighters and rural fire board when they say they need a new fire training center to replace the “antiquated” one. But the county has to ensure a new fire training center “fits the budget.” He is concerned that some estimates are higher than previously thought. On preserving volunteer EMS squads’ ability to operate, Blackwell said, “Nobody wants to kill volunteer spirit, which is so important,” but he says the county must respect the role of Piedmont Medical Center in providing EMS services countywide. He says a workshop in November will get everyone “at the table” and hopefully lead to a solution everyone finds fair.

Williams: “If we have needs out there that can’t be met with the hospital, they need to be addressed because all citizens need to have emergency care nearby.” He says a standard must be set for everybody, and the county should help the rescue squads reach that standard. Volunteer firefighters invest a lot of their time fundraising and training, which they can’t do enough of, he said. He supports the county’s push toward building a new fire training center.

Do you support the County Council’s recently approved countywide limitations on tethering and required sterilization of female animals kept in open areas? Should the council do more to address the problem of unwanted strays?

District 2

Incumbent Bruce Henderson and petition candidate John Rinehart, both Republicans, are competing to represent Clover, Lake Wylie and central York County.

Henderson: Supports the tethering limitations because they still allow pet owners to tether inside a fence. Going further, such as ban on tethering, would lead to a “massive number of dogs coming into the shelter” and “unnecessary euthanized animals” from people giving up their dogs. Too many regulations on pet owners might lead to people not wanting to adopt stray dogs and cats.

Rinehart: Agrees with new tethering limitations and said the rule is sufficient for now to deal with issues facing animal control. Called animal control a “difficult” issue for council because it’s really about “responsible pet ownership.” He said the county could do more to educate the public on that issue. “When you start having to euthanize this many pets, that's a serious concern.”

District 4

Incumbent Bump Roddey and petition candidate Roy Blake, both Democrats, are competing to represent most of southern Rock Hill.

Roddey: Voted for both new requirements. Says the law is a good start but knows the new rules won’t please everyone. He’s concerned that the ordinance might force residents who still want to use tethering as a secondary form of restraint to buy a fence. Limits on tethering will impact people in various ways depending on the size of their home and yard, he said, and that might be unfair.

Blake: Supports the law’s purpose but says the responsibility rests first with pet owners who should give their dogs freedom with supervision and train dogs of any breed to not be aggressive. Thinks enforcement of the law is going to be an “uphill climb.” Enforcement most likely will have to rely on neighbors, he said, and animal control officers might need more authority to enforce the new ordinance.

District 6

Chairman Britt Blackwell and petition candidate Gary Williams, both Republicans, are competing to represent northern Rock Hill and Newport.

Blackwell: Has strongly supported limiting tethering, but wonders why someone would need to continue tethering an animal, which he sees as inhumane, when it’s inside a fence. He hopes that requiring females to be spayed will help reduce the number of unwanted pets. “We cannot have a killing field for puppies” at the shelter, he said.

Williams: Agrees with both new requirements. For now, those measures should cut down on unwanted animals flowing into the shelter, but he’d consider doing more if needed. The county should do more to stop people from repeatedly turning litters over to the shelter. “It's unfortunate that we're having to spend the resources and kill the animals,” he said.

What action, or decision, of the York County Council has had the most impact on the county and why?

District 2

Incumbent Bruce Henderson and petition candidate John Rinehart, both Republicans, are competing to represent Clover, Lake Wylie and central York County.

Henderson: Following a small tax reduction some called “symbolic,” Henderson said he and other council members made “the plea” to other cities in York County and school districts to lower tax rates to help offset the impact of York County’s five-year, mandated reassessment of property values for tax purposes. “We led by example,” he said. Henderson said despite county management recommending no tax reduction in anticipation of having to raise taxes later, “there is a channel of command, and that’s the people electing us and on down the line.” Henderson said, “I’m not sold that there’s going to be a tax increase or a need for it, or else I wouldn’t have made the move.”

Rinehart: Council hasn’t been effective at making decisions, Rinehart said. He criticized council for postponing a decision on building a fairgrounds and equestrian center when “it appeared” they had already decided to move forward with the project. “The decision was made to postpone making a decision on that until after the election. The council should be able to make a decision,” he said. “We need strong leadership with business experience, and we need to be able to send the message that we do know how to do business and we do know how to make decisions.”

District 4

Incumbent Bump Roddey and petition candidate Roy Blake, both Democrats, are competing to represent most of southern Rock Hill.

Roddey: Finding money to complete highway improvements along Albright Road, a 1997 Pennies for Progress project, has significantly improved traffic and pedestrian safety in southern Rock Hill, he said. Roddey said using state and federal funding to complete a $1 million Eastview Road paving project has been a great accomplishment. Roddey said some council members are against spending tax-payer money for anything, but he’s “not afraid to pull the trigger” when worthy proposals such as infrastructure projects come across the table.

Blake: Said he is most proud of the county’s system that allows residents to pay their property tax in installments between October and January – an initiative he led when her served on the council . He said the payment plan eases “the burden on a lot of taxpayers” by not mandating that property tax be paid in one lump sum. Improving pedestrian safety around South Pointe High School was very important, he said, because students were crossing a dangerous creek and there were no sidewalks. He said funding road improvements through Pennies for Progress is “one of the best things that ever hit York County.”

District 6

Chairman Britt Blackwell and petition candidate Gary Williams, both Republicans, are competing to represent northern Rock Hill and Newport.

Blackwell: “Making sure we stay business friendly.” Blackwell said his move to quickly vote down proposed rules governing building and development in York County helped avoid “red tape” for businesses. The rules, which he said were too lengthy and complex, “could have had a very negative effect in this county on businesses.” He said the council is “looking forward to making it better” through revising the code to make it “more efficient” and shorter. Hopefully we can take good out of it and “make it where everybody wins.”

Williams: “Just not making decisions is what’s hurting this county. It’s not helping it,” he said. Williams said the council makes decisions driven by political influences. “I’m going to listen to people, but it’s not going to be that political. I’m not controlled by people.” As an example, Williams criticized the county’s proposed revisions to the building and development codes that he said came before council too soon. The council voted on them before fully understanding what they were voting on, Williams said. The council needed to hold several workshops that touched on every section of the proposal and should have committed to a longer timeline to consider the document, Williams said.

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