Candidates for Pickens County Council District 4 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?
G. Neil Smith — Incumbent
Pickens County should only be involved in industrial recruitment (not retail or residential) with economic incentives. Pickens County should maintain its policy that a company must provide new jobs and capital investment in exchange for free land within the Commerce Park. After the last four company announcements (277 jobs and 39 million capital investment), we should be working on increasing our inventory of sites. We also should support Alliance Pickens in its endeavor to bring more jobs to Pickens County.
The state agencies’ budgets within the county budget should be frozen until funds from the state are increased. Local property owners should not be paying for state services for which the state has already collected taxes. This shift of funding to the local level is a major problem for all counties and a constant complaint within the news media that Pickens County is not funding these requests.
The biggest financial issue is the status of the county jail while the biggest environmental issue is the dumping of coal ash into our county. Since I have already addressed my opposition to the dumping of coal ash, I will comment on the county jail. The old jail will have to be replaced with a new one which should be designed to accommodate a larger population of both male and female detainees. The exact size and the operation of the jail will have to be studied to determine the cost to the county which could be as high as $35 million. The high cost of building a jail should keep the county from committing on other capital projects until we have the final numbers and determined how we are going to pay for it.
Roy Costner — Challenger
From 2013-2015 Pickens county saw zero new industry while neighboring counties attracted dozens of new businesses. That is $13 billion in economic development in the Upstate of South Carolina with the Pickens county portion being $0. In April, Bobby Hitt, SC Secretary of Commerce, reported that nearly 3,000 new jobs were added in our state spanning a variety of industries and having a real impact on local communities. While we have had a couple of announcements over the past few months, our current county council has endangered the future growth for out county by pulling out of local and regional partnerships that drive growth.
Business is booming all around us as we wring our hands and wonder why schools are closing; why families are moving closer to their work in other counties and why we are we discussing raising taxes We need to rejoin those business alliances, embrace local and regional collaboration, work to develop readily available new industrial green-field sights and rebuild our base of families who work, live, pay taxes and play in Pickens County.
Everyone I talk to says “I love living in Pickens County” yet everyone expresses how unhappy they are. We live in the best place in the world yet lack the courage to market Pickens County for every opportunity towards prosperity. We need leadership on County Council that can work together, who are accessible and have a passion to lead into the 21st century with a servant heart. I am reminded of a quote I heard not too long ago: “character is doing what’s right when no one is looking. Leadership is doing what’s right in the face of real opposition.”
There is an ongoing problem with underfunding to our county from the State’s budget. So the answer is twofold. Just like we have to do at home, we must live within our means. I believe we need to take a hard look at the budget and where the money is being spent. We should only allocate funds where we can get a measurable return on our investment. I would encourage everyone to read what is being proposed in the budget and ask the question “How will this positively impact our community?”
For example: allocating funds for a Public Relations Person for county council where each council person should be the public relations person seems excessive. Equally as important is direct communication with the State Delegation. Finding out what the objection is to our funding from the state and working with this group to overcome that objection.
Anyone who answers this question with a singular item is really without vision on how we can put in the hard work towards a healthy and successful future for Pickens County. There are multiple issues that intertwine and collectively have put us in the place we are today. Leadership, transparency, vision and communication among local and regional organizations is key to furthering economic development, education and public safety.
The overcrowding of the jail, coal ash controversy, funding for Tri County Tech with false promises, use of existing facilities (fire department, Liberty Auditorium) and bringing back local industrial jobs have a direct impact on each other. We need to lead by doing the hard work to insure the every dollar spent delivers a direct return to the citizens of this county and every decision made is well researched and presented to the public as to how and why it will be great for our community.
Keith Culbreath — Challenger
Economic Development is another story all by itself, we must look at rejoining Upstate Alliance and find out what they have to offer and look at where we are verses where we should be on jobs here. We should reach out to the larger business owners in the area and ask them to help to help generate interest in bringing their businesses to this county and listen to their thoughts, after all they are successful business owners.
The shortfall on the local government fund will have to be accounted for through revenue growth and or use of our fund balance. You could cut services, but I’m not for that, nor do I think anyone else will be.
The largest problem today is the Coal Ash dump that is trying to come into this county. We must put this thing to rest for good, if we don’t we will lose all hope of any economic development coming here and the ones we have will leave as will some of people who live here. We will lose significant property values and tax revenue making it harder on the average citizen not to mention the potential environmental disaster it poses.
Information for this article compiled by D. C. Moody.