Candidates for Pickens County Council District 5 were asked the following three questions:
1. What, in your opinion, is the role of economic development within Pickens County and what would be your plan for next term?
2. The Local Government Fund is once again underfunded in the state’s budget. How does the county handle this shortage of funds from the state?
3. What is the biggest issue facing Pickens County and what is your proposed solution to that issue?
Economic development plays a huge role within Pickens County or at least it should. Unfortunately there has been little to none since approximately 2012. In South Carolina there are forty six counties and Pickens County is forty six, in last place. It’s so bad our own governor has spoken publicly about it. Economic development brings industry and industry brings jobs. Good jobs keep the citizens of Pickens County in Pickens County. This keeps not only tax dollars in our county but the money these people spend in general also stays here where it is filtered back into the local economy helping local businesses and reinforcing our financial infrastructure. The first thing I would do for the next term is rejoin the economic alliance. We should be working in cooperation not competition with these groups as they are better skilled at seeking out and procuring new business to locate in Pickens County. This is obvious due to the failure of the current council to do so. We have everything here industry likes: land, low taxes, eager available workers, and a great place to raise a family. The problem is no one knows about us because council ties the hands of the alliance and makes us a well kept secret. I would make every effort to change that.
They need to say we have been underfunded and I’ll ask our state delegation for full funding. That being said, the LGF is a pro rata formula so other counties are experiencing the same issue and apparently are able to build new jails and attract industry. So, we believe in home rule and whether state helps or not we will take care of what we need to.
There are many large issues currently facing Pickens County. Economic development is huge. The other would most likely be the jail. Since I have already spoken extensively about economic development I will address the jail. The Pickens County Jail is designed to hold ninety prisoners. It currently averages between two hundred and twenty five and two hundred and fifty prisoners. It has already been the target of law suits due to the danger of this type of overcrowding. It is dangerous for the prisoners and dangerous for the guards. Were it a public entity the fire department would have already shut it down. As to a solution, at some point a new jail must be built. The sheriff has asked for money from the state but was denied. He must keep asking. We also have a thirty to forty million dollar county surplus which at some point may have to be tapped. In the meantime a sizable portion of these prisoners are nonviolent and are let out on work release, some in our own county administrative office. These people should be on house arrest with ankle monitors at their own expense. This will not only free up space but will remove the expense of housing them, feeding them, and providing their medical care. For the mentally ill who are not truly criminals we should have a facility for them that is better suited to handle people with that condition. Lastly we must speed up the process. We must Get faster court dates; sentence them and send them to a federal or state prison or free them.
Economic development is very important. In order to be successful it takes collaboration and cooperation with all community partners. It is impossible to achieve great results on your own. The county must bring local businesses, municipalities, education representatives, and community leaders together to highlight our strengths to attract growth that will fill the needs and accent the county. Currently education, government, and services are the largest employers in the county which limits career options. A large number of the citizens commute to neighboring counties to work in the career field that they received the training for right here in Pickens County. Those citizens end up shopping, eating, and enjoying recreation in those counties. That is a loss for Pickens County. Business growth and development also spreads the tax burden and takes the bulk off of the citizen. That relief spreads over all areas including schools, infrastructure, and services.
Under funding of the local fund is a problem. I’m not a fan of big government or overstretching of power by the government. Locally the county has to work with the delegation to ensure the citizens get what they deserve. The state requires certain service and standards like public safety coverage with minimal response times. Without funding the burden falls back on the citizens. The areas most affected by the disparity are non-negotiable services which means the citizens will suffer financially through tax increases to make up for the loss. This problem is bigger than Pickens County it also affects the municipalities and reaches across the entire state. Like many of the hurdles this county faces it is best to work with others to achieve the best results. It is also important that the citizens are informed and that they do their part in reaching out to elected officials.
The biggest issue I see as a citizen is the lack of vision. We need stability in an administrator, we need the citizens to understand the goals of council, we need development, we need to be able to fund county departments, and unfortunately these are not possible without clear vision and leadership. There is an old saying, “Where there is no vision the people will perish”. We live in a great county with outstanding resources. The charm and uniqueness that our county has is one of the greatest strengths that we have to offer and it doesn’t have to be lost in order to grow. But in order to offer a future to the citizens we need growth and for growth we desperately need a clear vision. It cannot be about 1 person, or 6 people, it has to be what is best for the county as a whole.
Any growth in economic development within the county expands the tax base, so it is good for the entire county. I would try to end the regional territorialism which has caused too many rifts. I would vote to join Upstate Alliance which would help Ray Farley accomplish his job. I would also like to attract more new single family home construction throughout the county. I would meet with the Homebuilders Associations and ask them to consider our wonderful county. I would continue to meet with business leaders and ask how we could help them grow and expand their customer base. Our proximity to downtown Greenville gives us the local edge over the congested Simpsonville area.
This is not a new problem. The state funds about 66% of what they collect from our county. The county and the cities have always been shorted. Because this is not a new problem, I would ask the municipal associations for guidance. I am not for litigation because only the citizens lose when one government sues another. When budgeting, Pickens County should expect to receive 66% until this fiscal correction is solved. The state also has shorted our school district from required funds. The federal gasoline tax does not return dollar for dollar the tax monies collected in SC. I like to be fair and responsible, but these issues cannot be fixed quickly or easily.
The biggest issue facing our county is an image problem. We have made headlines for all the wrong reasons such as the jail overcrowding, MMR ash dump, Tri-County Tech funding and our school board. We have so many great assets and people in Pickens County. We have one of the nicest counties in the state with our lakes, Table Rock, Horse Pasture Wilderness Area, and Sassafrass Mountain for natural resources. Our school system is one of the best in the state despite the actions of some trustees. I do support a 7th seat on the school board. I would encourage more partnerships with Tri-County Tech and our school district. I have always supported using a professional spokesperson to give a polished response. I have worked in broadcast media and know how important it is for a positive impression. Let’s put our best foot forward and by working “together we can.”
I view economic development as one of the top priorities for Pickens County Council. As a councilman, I would look to continue the trend of recent new job announcement and current company expansions to avoid a repeat of the several lackluster years the county recently went through. I would look to re-join Upstate Alliance as well as actively recruit big business. The more big business we bring to Pickens County the wider the tax base will become, and doing so will ease the current tax burden placed on individuals.
It has become apparent that the local government fund has not been a priority in Columbia with issues like road funding taking the forefront. It’s time for the County Council to stop putting the blame of underfunding on the legislature when our county budget grew by six million dollars from last year. Our council has the means to take care of its funding problems and I will fight to ensure all of our mandates are funded.
The biggest issue facing the county is the problem with our outdated and crumbling detention center. The county is making headlines with brawls breaking out due to our inmate facilities being overcrowded by over one hundred individuals (usually during the summer months). As a councilman, I will make sure to put this issue at the forefront of discussions as we look at the many different ways to fund the project (i.e. Reserve funding, financing etc.) and make sure it comes to fruition to put our deputies and other prison workers in a safer environment.
Information for this article compiled by D. C. Moody.