UNION — The nine candidates running for public office in the City of Union presented their ideas about the future of the city during a debate Thursday night that was informative with only a few sharp exchanges towards the end.
Thursday’s debate, which was held in the USC Union auditorium, was sponsored by the Union County Young Republicans and the Union County Democratic Party. It was designed to provide a forum for the candidates to speak on issues of importance to the people of Union in a fair and impartial environment.
The debates opened with the candidates for the District 3 Union City Council seat — Yates Giles (incumbent), Jack Kelly III, and Vicki C. Morgan — taking the stage.
The candidates were asked a number of questions, among them, why utilities in the city so expensive and whether or not they can be reduced.
Morgan said that the “loss of industries and businesses has reduced the volume and the income the city was receiving from their usage. The best and easiest way to reduce utility costs is to get more businesses and industries. More importantly, we need to work with our present businesses and industries and help them expand and grow. And that would help our utilities.”
In addition to economic growth, Morgan said in addressing the issue of utility rates “we need to look at ways to reduce costs. We have a lot of citizens on fixed incomes and they are doing without medicine and groceries to pay these high utility bills. We need to look for ways to save money.”
Morgan added that “these things need to be council’s number one priority.”
Kelly, however, pointed out that, after talking with City of Union Utility Director Joe Nichols, he had “learned that our rates in Union from Lockhart Power and Duke Power are lower than Broad River. South Carolina Electric’s rates are currently higher than Union’s.”
Furthermore, Kelly pointed out that the city’s “gas, water, electricity, sewage, and garbage are combined, therefore, our rates are lower compared to other areas where the utilities are billed separately. Our gas rates have not been raised since 2012. The electricity rates were recently adjusted in 2014.”
Kelly also pointed out that Union and nine other cities “have a 50-year agreement on owning a nuclear reactor for energy usage. This will expire in 2035.”
Giles said that “our utilities are competitive with the outlying areas. One thing that would help reduce our rates would be increased volume. Since the closing of number of textile mills, the City of Union’s utilities have been left with a large surplus. If we could sell it, we could reduce rates.”
Looking at the utility department itself, Giles said that the department “offers some of the finest service to be found anywhere. Our employees are second to none and are always willing to assist in emergencies.”
The candidates for the District 6 City Council seat — Jim Wilson (incumbent), Sonja Craig, and Kristi Sommer — were the next to take the stage.
One of the issues raised during the debate was that of tourism, with the candidates being asked what they would do to help bring more tourism and the revenue it generates into the city.
Wilson pointed to the efforts already undertaken/under way by the city to promote tourism including spending $1 million to help build the Timken Sports Complex as well as its support of the Miracle League Field and All-Inclusive Playground. He also pointed out that the city has also supported such tourism-related events and institutions as the “Farm Equipment Show, Ag+Art Tour, County Fair, Uniquely Union, Union County Arts Council, Union County Tourism, Upcountry Literary Festival, Olde English District, and the Union County Historical Society (including) the museum and Cross Keys House.”
More recently, Wilson said the city helped bring the Southeastern Treeing Walker Days to Union County, an event that will be held each year for the next five years. Wilson also pointed to the opening of Main Street Junction which he said is also drawing people to Union. He said that sports are continuing to grow, pointing to hunting events, junior and high school athletics, and the new sport teams that have been established or soon will be at USC Union.
Wilson added that the city’s efforts to promote tourism are continuing beyond the institutions and events it is already supporting.
“We are looking for other worthwhile events,” he said.
Sommer pointed out that Union has “many of the same kinds of activities in our community as other places, they’re just not advertised regionally. We have to get the word out that good things and fun times are happening in Union. We need to accentuate the positive in our community. If we are having a festival or event, we need to advertise in surrounding counties. Yes, it would cost something to advertise, but we’d recoup the cost and more with the people who would come.”
While other communities have events that draw tourists, Sommer pointed out that “we have stuff going on too: Boogaloo, Uniquely Union, Ag+Art, Farm Equipment Show, Show & Shine Antique Car Show, the County Fair, the Speedway, the Arts Council.”
In discussing what makes Union a desirable tourist destination, Sommer added that “we have a wonderful museum, an award-winning library, and beautiful old homes. We have a beautiful Main Street and a great meeting place facility.”
Craig pointed out that “we are a social media society and we need to have all our events in a place so that when people are looking for an event in Union they can pull up one page and see what is happening here. I know Uniquely Union has a Facebook page, but we need to combine all our festivals such as AG+Art , the tractor show, Union County Fair, all in one place. Most people today live with their cell phones in their hands, looking for what is going on in different communities so they can plan their weekends. I feel sure that if we would do this it would bring in many more people.”
Beyond the need for a stronger social media presence, Craig said should also do all it can to support the Union County Museum.
“We have our museum,” Craig said. “This is probably the one thing that brings in the most people to our community and we need to support this.”
Next up were the mayoral candidates for the City of Union and the Town of Carlisle.
The only candidate for mayor of Carlisle to take part in the debate was Ann Stevens who spoke briefly introduction herself and answering a couple of questions.
Carlisle mayoral candidate Mary Ferguson-Glenn (incumbent) did not participate in the debate.
The last to take the stage were the candidates — Harold Thompson (incumbent), Tommy Anthony, Robert Small — for Mayor of the City of Union.
It was during this part of the debate that the event saw its only sharp exchanges between any of the candidates.
When asked why he was running, Small said it was “because I think Union is on its way down, we’re not growing. Something’s got to change. We’re in bad shape. We’re not heading anywhere.”
A short time later, Small was asked where he saw Union being 10 years from now and he said he saw the city “deteriorating more if we don’t make drastic changes.” Small criticized Thompson’s statements that the city was growing, saying that “we’re in terrible shape” with no housing for young people and stating his belief that without growth the city could lose USC Union. He also said that the recently opened Main Street Junction would not generate revenue for the city but instead become a burden to the taxpayers.
These statements brought rebuttals from, first, Thompson, and then Anthony, with Thompson saying that he did not see Union crumbling like Small claims it is. Instead, Thompson said “this town is growing” and that “the downtown is coming back.”
As for Small’s claim that the city could possibly lose USC Union, Thompson said that just the opposite is true. He said that USC Union is growing and will continue to grow, that there are plans to add a school of nursing, build student housing, and pointed also to the ongoing revitalization of the college’s sports program.
Thompson said that “things are happening,” good things that he said can really benefit the community and that will come to fruition if the people of Union pull together to make them happen.
Anthony agreed with Thompson about Union being on the upswing. He said that far from being a burden on the taxpayers, Main Street Junction “will bring people from out of town” to Union. Anthony pointed out that since it opened Main Street Junction has already hosted a couple of events and that more are coming in the near future.
Earlier, Anthony pointed out that, far from the situation being as grim as Small paints it, things are looking good for Union and will only get better. He said that within the next few months the people of Union will see something going on that will really be good for the city.
The next debate will be held Oct. 6, again at 7 p.m. in the USC Union auditorium. That debate will be for the candidates for Sheriff of Union County, Clerk of Court of Union County, and Union County Council District 3.
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.