Roasted: Coffee with Bill Hearn
Dorchester County Councilman Bill Hearn talked with Patch and voters over coffee Thursday.
Bill Hearn, running for reelection to Dorchester County Council District 6, sat down with Patch and concerned voters Thursday at Coastal Coffee Roasters.
Coffee with the Candidates is 4:30 p.m. Thursdays.
The next Coffee with the Candidates is 3:30 p.m. May 31 at Coastal Coffee and features Ed Carter, running for S.C. House District 97.
Hearn faces a challenger in the Republican primary June 12. His opponent, Roger Goodman, met for coffee earlier this election season.
Here is a recap of Thursday's conversation with Hearn:
Q: Why are you running for reelection?
This will be the second time I'm running to represent District 6. When I was on council from 1995 until 2002, I represented District 2. As a councilman, I want to continue to lead by example and encourage my fellow councilmen to follow suit. You have to give back the county credit card, give back the phone and pay your own way. I will not take the pay raise. I want to continue to move the county forward, and this has been the most effective county council. We've got the right sense of things. We just got this new council established and it has a new direction — we're just getting started. District 6 is finally getting the projects that have been in the works for years. Projects like Pine Trace and work on the Butternut-Central intersection are finally happening.
Q: Pine Trace is in District 2, why is it important to you?
My dad founded the Parks and Recreation Commission in Irmo. This county has talked about parks since 1995, and we finally have one. Our economic development consulting agency said we needed two things, infrastructure and parks, to attract more industry. We have the land now with Pine Trace and the next challenge is getting funding and not raising taxes.
Q: Speaking of economic development, do you agree with building industrial parks and other infrastructure to attract businesses?
We need to work in cooperation with the county's economic development group but also with the region. What do we have? It'd hard to sell green fields. Boeing is a trigger for seven-plus industries and we have to have something to offer. You need to have sewer capacity, water capacity and other needs in place. Most businesses will want a turn-key operation that an industrial park can offer. Our niche in the county has always been expanding existing business but now we're in a period where the opportunity to attract new business is right in front of us.
Q: With the new projects, will this get the county ahead of growth or will this be to keep up with growth?
Dorchester Road is going to help us in the general sense. The key is we have to have cooperation with our delegation. Council is limited — it requires each part of the equation to deal with growth.
Q: With the budget going through council now, can you speak to it?
The budget promises to be tight. This is the second year in a row with no fee or tax increase in the budget. The only increase in taxes has come from referendums passed by voters. This is a frugal county council.
Q: Speaking of expenses, can you address the county vehicle use?
I've been asked if the county needs to be vigilant in monitoring gas use for take-home vehicles. My answer is "Absolutely, we need to be frugal." And we've been doing just that for 14 months. We have been thoroughly monitoring gas consumption. My opponent made light of our efforts. He's been given the facts but for whatever reason he continues to talk about this. We have saved 33,000 gallons in gas this year — this is a trend. Folks have been terminated for misuse of county vehicles. The reality is that this is an ongoing thing that we are already addressing. Vehicle use and gas consumption is a great way to have budget leakage if you're not careful.
Q: The county hasn't made much money off of impact fees, and some have said that those fees in addition to our commercial tax rate have deterred growth. Can you address that?
We're the only county in the tricounty that has every single impact fee. There's a deterrent factor with that. We don't have a lot in the fund for infrastructure right now but we don't know if that's partly the economy's fault. We don't want to have the image of not being friend especially to small business. I'm not sure if there is a better way. You can never build enough houses to meet what industry brings to the county. Houses just drain our resources. Once the economy picks up, we may have to address impact fees in the future but the issue hasn't come up. The economy improving is going to bring us to the realization we have to do something about it. The impact fees put us at a competitive disadvantage.
Q: You stand alone on council regarding putting the Old Hospital under the zoning of the town of Summerville's Board of Architecture Review. Please explain your position.
It became very clear, very quickly that selling the building was unpopular. We now know the county owes too much debt for that to be a possibility, but I do not object to the BAR having purview over the building. I have the constituents who have the most at stake, and I will certainly stand with my constituents on the issue. I will say that more people were more passionate about that than anything else.
Q: A commenter online wanted to know if you were running "with" any other candidates as a slate. Please comment.
Another politician once told me to stay out of other politicians' campaigns. I can't imagine anybody would run on a slate because you run the risk of teaming up with a candidate who could offend a potential supporter. I do go to other political functions, but there's nothing wrong with that — my constituents expect to see me out. If there are candidates running on a slate, I wouldn't mind being on both slates.