UNION — The questions asked during Thursday’s debate at USC Union varied from office to office and so did the intensity of the exchanges between the candidates.
Thursday’s debate, which was held in the USC Union auditorium, was the second of three debates sponsored the Union County Young Republicans and the Union County Democratic Party. The debates are designed to provide a forum for the candidates to speak on issues of importance to the people of Union County in a fair and impartial setting.
The first debate was held Sept. 28 and was for candidates running for the offices of Mayor of the City of Union and Districts 3 and 6 seats on Union City Council as well as the Mayor of the Town of Carlisle.
Thursday’s debate was for the candidates running for the Union County Council District 3 seat, Union County Clerk of Court, and Union County Sheriff. Unlike the races in the City of Union and the Town of Carlisle which are non-partisan, the races for these county offices are partisan ones, pitting Democrats against Republicans.
The first debate was between District 3 incumbent Tommy Ford, a Democrat, and challenger David Sinclair, a Republican.
One of the questions asked of Ford and Sinclair was “Why do we incur the cost of spec building facilities and promoting potential properties for industry?”
In his response, Ford pointed out that the Union County Development Board and the Upstate Alliance are also working to recruit industry to Union County. Ford said that 75 percent of the prospective industries contacted by the Development Board and the Alliance ask whether or not the county has a spec building. He said those prospects will not even look at the county if it does not have a spec building.
Ford said that because of this, having a spec building is “the key to our economic development.”
Sinclair said called spec buildings an “open invitation for a looking business,” and called the county’s spec building program a “huge asset for Union County. He said that spec buildings have served the catalyst for economic development in other counties, pointing to the example of Greenwood County where it has been the county spec building program, not its lake, that has been the driving force in the county’s economic growth and development.
Given the impact that spec buildings can and do have on economic development, Sinclair said “I think we should build another one.”
Another questioned asked of Ford and Sinclair concerned the term “in lieu of taxes,” a term the questioners said was often used when council voted on a county project. They were asked to “explain what it means and why this action is taken.”
Ford said the purpose of a fee in lieu of taxes is “to attract new industry and create jobs for our county.” He said a fee in lieu of taxes reduces an industry’s property taxes from 10.5 percent to 6 percent for a certain period of time.
“This action is taken because we are competing for jobs, and every county and state offers tax breaks in an effort to attract new businesses and industries,” Ford said.
Sinclair described it as a “state or local grace period offered to a business for taxes, in which the taxes may be reduced to a lower rate.” He said it allows the county to “compete with other states with a lower commercial tax rate” and “provides an incentive to industry and manufacturing companies that are looking to relocate or build new.”
Calling the fee in lieu of taxes a “great investment by the city and county,” Sinclair said he would like to see it extended to start up and/or expanding small businesses.
Clerk Of Court
Next was the debate for Clerk of Court between Democrat Melanie Lawson and Republican Amy Austin. This was the shortest debate of the evening, with the candidates mainly asked why they were running and what their qualifications for the office are.
Lawson said that she had worked in the Clerk of Court’s Office for over 20 years and that her experience “includes supervising the Family Court Office (and) working court issuing the judges’ written orders, bench warrants, and rules to show probable cause. My experience will allow me to begin working and help the staff with a heavy workload and will help in making decisions.”
As for why she is running, Lawson said “I can be an asset. I enjoyed my job there, it was my career. I know I can make a difference.” She spoke of making improvements to the office including having its bank accounts reconciled by an accountant to enhance accountability and preserving old deeds by having them digitized.
Austin said she had worked for the Department of Social Services in Union and York counties gaining courtroom experience in the performance of her duties which included making presentations to judges, working with attorneys, working with the Clerk of Court’s Office in filling paperwork and scheduling cases. She said she is also familiar with the Register of Deeds section of the Clerk of Court’s Office from working in Adult Protective Services where she sometimes had to look up properties and other items in preparation for cases of exploitation of vulnerable adults. In addition, she said she also spent time looking up properties for real estate classes she’s taken and also for researching properties for her family business.
Austin said that “I love this community and I want the opportunity to continue to serve the people here. Our clerk’s office has progressed a lot over the past few years with new technology and I want to do all I can to make it even better. Union County is a small county compared to some others, but that does not mean their offices are any better than ours. I want to make sure we continue an excellent working relationship that the clerk’s office has with other outside agencies as well.”
The final debate of the evening was for Sheriff and it proved to be the most contentious with incumbent David Taylor, a Democrat, and challenger Jeff Bailey, a Republican, squaring off over the issues.
When asked what is the biggest problem facing Union County, Bailey said the county has “a terrible drug problem” that not only contributes to crime, but also has a negative impact on economic development. Bailey said that while there are industries and businesses in the county creating jobs, they are having trouble filling them because so many people who might fill them can’t get hired because they can’t pass a drug test.
Bailey said that the Sheriff’s Office has to be more “proactive and interactive” in addressing the drug problem. He said the Sheriff’s Office must get more involved with drug prevention in, first, the schools, and then in the community as a whole.
Taylor, however, said that while drugs are a problem, an even greater problem facing the county is a lack of resources for government services including law enforcement because “the tax base is not flourishing with revenue.” He said that because of this “you can’t spend money if you don’t have it. We don’t have the ability to hire new people.”
Taylor said that because of this the Sheriff’s Office must focus on what it is designed to do, enforce the law, not attempt to engage in drug treatment/prevention programs in the community. He said that in his experience the kind of programs Bailey is proposing, especially in the schools, are not only costly but ineffective.
Financial issues were also a point of contention between Bailey and Taylor with them arguing over the size of the Sheriff’s Office budget. Taylor said the Sheriff’s Office budget is only $1.9 million, but Bailey said that the sheriff oversees not only the Sheriff’s Office budget, but the budgets for 911 and the Union County Jail for a total of $3.7 million. While he did not go into details, Bailey said that there was fat in these budgets that could be cut. Taylor, however, said that most of the budgets overseen by the sheriff are for personnel costs, such as salaries and insurance, pointing to the $1.9 million of the Sheriff’s Office budget, of which he said $1.8 million go to personnel costs.
In the most heated exchange of the evening, Taylor that when Bailey was Union County Magistrate, he was asked two years ago by Union County Council to cut his office’s proposed $357,000 budget by 10 percent, but refused to do so, even seeking to have it increased.
Bailey said Taylor’s claim “is a lie,” pointing that he met with council about the budget because he had only two women working in his office and that given their workload one alone could not handle it. He said that in going to council he was not asking for more money but instead to have enough funding left in the budget so he would have staff sufficient to meet the workload of the Magistrate’s Office.
The next debate will be held Oct. 27, again at 7 p.m. in the USC Union Auditorium. That debate will be for the candidates for the SC House of Representatives District 42 seat.
For more about Election 2016 see upcoming issues of The Union Times and online at our website (www.uniondailytimes.com) and our Facebook page.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.