1. The announcement that Disney Direct Marketing will close its Jonesville facility over the next year was disheartening news for this county which is already struggling with nearly 20 percent of its adult workforce unemployed. In addition to the potential increase in our unemployment rate, the closing of the facility will cost the county approximately $200,000 in tax revenue making its already tight budget event tighter.
This presents two challenges for the next council: First, finding a successor to take over the Jonesville facility once Disney is gone and, in general, reducing the county’s unemployment rate. Second, dealing with the impact of the loss of the Disney tax revenue on the county budget.
What, if anything, do you believe the county can do beyond what it is already being done to bring in a successor to Disney? What, if anything, do you believe the county can do to reduce local unemployment?
Even if a new business eventually takes over the Disney property, it may be some time before the county sees any new tax revenue to replace the $200,000 lost. This will make it more difficult for council to balance the budget. How would you balance the county budget? What expenditures in what departments would you cut to balance it? If you would not make cuts, would you seek to raise taxes?
English: Our local development board is already aggressively looking for industry to move into Union County. It does seem that our area has seen a rise in the distribution industry over the past several years. I hope the Disney property will entice another company to move into our great community.
I am not in favor of raising taxes to replace the tax revenue lost from Disney. Hopefully our county will catch a break and draw a large industry this year to save taxpayers money.
We have not rehired for two county jobs that have become vacant and we also cut out the money that was to be paid to lobbyists. We also made some changes in our communication (phone) system. These expenditures alone have saved the county approximately $150,000 a year.
Ivey: The answer is not easy or quick. It’s a fact; we need other industry in Union. This will give relief in several areas.
As a hopeful new county council member in District 4, I can say no one person can fix the problems. We must work together and not overstep our bounds. You have placed people and committees in positions to bring economic growth to our county. I believe they must be held accountable for their time and expenses. We need to see that they have at least been trying to move our county ahead.
The revenue that will be lost is just that, lost. It will only be replaced or made up as other industries move to Union and set up shop. We would need to look at areas that may be trimmed until we see our revenue pick up. Think about how you would handle revenue lost at your house. These are the same issues you are asking us to deal with.
There again it is the development board that is working to locate industries for our county.
All leads and information should be forwarded to them for analysis. Then they would bring their findings to the table for further discussion.
UDT: The Patriot’s Lake project would build a 5,300 acre lake at the confluence of Tyger River and Fairforest Creek in the Sumter National Forest.
The primary justification for the lake by its proponents is the need for a reliable, local water source in the face of population growth-driven depletion of existing sources as well as upstream pollution. Proponents have also argued for the lake on the grounds of economic development and power generation.
Whatever the merits of these arguments, the lake cannot be financed locally and will require federal money at a time when the federal government is increasingly swamped in an ocean of red ink and facing an already massive national debt that is expected to get larger in the years ahead.
Given this fiscal reality, do you believe the lake project to be feasible? If so, why and how do you propose it be paid for without adding to the national debt?
If not, what alternatives do you propose for meeting the county’s future water needs and dealing with the issue of upstream pollution? What alternatives do you favor for economic development in the lower part of the county?
English: I do believe the lake project is feasible, but I realize it will be a long, drawn out project due to our current economic situation.
I also realize if the lake project is ever green-lighted, it will take revenue from all sides to make a project of this size become a reality.
Ivey: I have thought for years we need another supply of water for the county. It is possible to have a major problem with Broad River and we would be crippled. We would need to look at building a reservoir or pipe in water from another county.
The local creeks are all supplied from springs and have dried up during the droughts.
I believe the lake could be beneficial to the county. It’s a fact you can’t have something of this magnitude without a debt. I also believe there would need to be a great amount of thought given to the surrounding property and its development before any approval is given. It would be too nice of a project to undertake and not have the county’s best interest at heart.
UDT: The worst trauma this county has experienced in recent history was in 2009 with the indictment of several county officials on federal and state corruption charges.
This corruption was exposed by investigations by the FBI and SLED and these cases are currently winding their way through the criminal justice system.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, however, and if Union County is to avoid another such trauma and subsequent law enforcement cures preventative measures involving transparency in government must be taken locally.
How do you propose we avoid in the future a repeat of the outrages of 2009?
What steps do you think should be taken to ensure the county is transparent to the maximum extent possible? Will you push for such policies to be put in place even if they prove unpopular at the courthouse?
English: I was not in office when the bank building was purchased. But now, if the county buys any property, the property must be appraised and the county cannot pay more than the appraisal cost.
Also, we will need a set of checks and balances, more frequent audits of all departments and personnel procedures. We will have to run the county like a true business that we all have a stake in and be as transparent as possible.
I would also like to see a procurement position put into place; someone to do all the purchasing rather than each department head doing all the purchasing for the county.
I will continue to work with other council members and push any such policies we see necessary to put in place — even if they are unpopular at the court house — to prevent any chance of a repeat of the outrages of 2009.
Ivey: We have some good people working in our county offices. It’s the few bad ones that make people think corruption is everywhere. But if I’m elected to the Union County Council District 4 seat, I would like to see that we protect our good employees.
I don’t know what is or is not in place at this time. There needs to be a county code of conduct, job descriptions, and standard operating procedures in place for every county job.
I’d like to know what I’m responsible for and do it to be best of my ability. You deserve better than what has been brought to your attention.
UDT: Intermittently over the years, the county and the City of Union of have discussed the possible consolidation of at least some government services to reduce expenses.
Nothing has really ever come of these conversations which seem to have always foundered even though both sides seem to agree consolidation is a good idea.
The issue is again being discussed with the councils going so far as to form a committee on the consolidation of certain areas where services are duplicated.
Do you favor consolidation? If so, which departments do you think should be combined and which government given the responsibility for providing those services?
If you don’t favor consolidation, why not?
English: We currently have two committees working on consolidations involving services such as animal control and building inspection. I think it will always be a combined effort to make these consolidations work.
Ivey: As a means of cost savings we do need to consolidate as much as possible.
If a committee has already gathered information on existing jobs and departments that could be combined, they need to be revisited and if not, a current review must be done and immediately determined how to put them in place. The delay is costing the county every day that goes by.
I understand cutbacks and layoffs. I know the hardship it cost. But the money that is being wasted is costing our taxpayers.
We will need to balance the consolidations, (be it gain or loss) to be fair to both the city and county concerning all government services involved.