Dorchester County Councilman Bill Hearn sat down with Patch and concerned voters Thursday at Coastal Coffee Roasters.
Hearn is running for reelection of District 6. He's hoping for a second term representing the district. He has been challenged by petition candidate Miriam Birdsong, who is a Democrat but was removed from the Democratic ballot due to filing issues that affected many nonincumbents across the state. Hearn also served on council previously, representing District 2. This was Hearn's second time participating in the series. Click here to read the recap of his first time attending prior to the June primary.
Birdsong will participate in the series Thursday, Oct. 25.
Coffee with the Candidates is 4 p.m. Thursdays at Coastal Coffee Roasters, and there are just two candidates left to be featured. On Thursday, Nov. 1, Patch will present S.C. House District 97 GOP candidate Ed Carter at the event. His opponent, incumbent Rep. Patsy Knight, has declined to participate in the series.
How will you get to know the seven school board candidates? Check out the town hall debate featuring the candidates Oct. 24 at Pilot's Lounge.
Here is a brief recap of Thursday's conversation with Hearn:
Q: Why are you running again? And why should you have a second term?
I cannot help but notice my opponent's poster next to the Obama poster in the Democratic headquarter's window. I hope that resonates with voters. I bring experience. I have been able to position myself as a bridge between old and new members of council, and with Carroll Duncan (GOP candidate running unopposed for Distict 5) joining the council, it's going to make it very interesting. If you're voting in the general election, I believe the vast majority would want to make sure the candidate is credentialed in the party — I am. In terms of getting along with council, we will work together. We have done a good job on council, but it's going to get a lot better.
Q: You defeated your GOP opponent in the primary, now how to do you plan to defeat your Democratic opponent in the general?
Unfortunately, people are not really interested in the county council race as much as something like the presidential race. When the dust settles, it will be me who dictates the stuff that affects day-to-day life. The odds are in my favor. During the last presidential election, 64 percent of those in Dorchester County voted straight ticket. That's going to be an additional challenge to my opponent. You take it seriously, but I don't think there will be a whole lot of challenge.
Q: How can Dorchester County build more economic development to increase revenue and decrease the burden on homeowners?
It would be easy to blame this all on the economy. It has a part but, in reality, we have also had issues for the last 17 years that have stalled economic development. We have to do better with green fields, industrial parks. We're getting Winding Woods going up, but we can count the number of industrial parks in the county on one hand. It may be lack of funds. This is no surprise. It's something that we have to commit the money to. The money spent on industrial parks offers a return on the investment.
Q: So, what's the plan for economic development?
We have economic development allies but they operate independent of the council. Economic development is something we need to sit down and think about. What we have to do is partner up. East Edisto development will bring additional water and sewer capacity to the western end of the county, and that will expand to Knightsville. We also have to make sure there is water and sewer capacity for new home construction. We took a deep breath when the economy slowed down and it's going to catch us off guard again.
Q: How do you respond to criticism about the county purchasing land for parks and other park expenditures?
I voted against bringing the parks referendum to the voters. In 2010, 72 percent voted in favor of park land, and the language wasn't 100 percent clear in the referendum on if this money was to be used for conservation and passive parks or for recreational parks. We have $5 million dedicated for parks, and the county has voted to set aside a half million for conservation easements. I have misgivings on creating an additional bureaucracy. We don't want county in the recreation business. We have heard about it being self sustaining — I want to pursue that. We have made some phenomenal purchases — once in a lifetime purchases along the Ashley River. It's not the why of parks that concerns me, it's the how that concerns me.
Q: Speaking of land purchases, there has been criticism of the cost of the new jail site, can you respond to that?
We're negotiating land. Some deals are better than others but I have not heard that criticism. The push for the jail land was to get it closer to Summerville, which drove the cost of land acquisition up. There was cheaper land, but the cost of transport, and property improvements would have made the complete price more expensive than the current site.
Q: Recently, the sheriff addressed council and bemoaned the tight budget costing him employees. Will you expand his budget?
We have this mentality of never have so many people gotten by on so little. But in paying lower salaries we have increased turnovers, and with fire and police, there are training costs for new people. That eats into a budget. His point is well taken. We live and die by county employees, but all the other county employees are watching. If you go to one department and try to fix their payroll, you're always balancing this. They can all make the case they have unnecessary turnover. You have to perpetually stay on top of pay. Council is looking because when you start to lose employees, that's a problem. On the other hand, we are projected to get less from the state, and the outlook of getting the money we need is not good.
Q: If the school bond referendum passes, about 84 percent of the county's properties will be covered by debt. How much debt is too much? And are you in favor of the referendum?
About that much is too much. But just like you, I get to vote that one time. I'm staying out of the referendum issue for a couple reasons. It's not our decision. And it'd be "kill the messenger" no matter which way it goes.
Q: What are some of your priorities and main items you'd like to tackle?
The first thing is: we still do not do a thorough enough job of planning and prioritizing. We found ourselves in a situation where we were looking at multiple projects from the same revenue source. You can't do that. We're tapping out the bond. We're not going to be able to do anything big for a while, so we have to have a plan. We've got to look at ways to raise revenue other than taxation. That is something that has to be looked at again. We have been focused on committing the referendum and the jail. Now we've got to pay for them. The commitment on council has been not to raise taxes but at some point you're going to bump up against the ceiling. It is one of those things where you get into a governmental rut with the next problem or crisis, and it's no longer the big picture.