District 7 County Council candidates square off at Bluffton forum

cconley@ilsandpacket.comOctober 30, 2012 

In this file photo, District 7 Beaufort City Council candidates Dan Duryea and Cynthia Bensch square off at a Bluffton Town Hall forum.

CASEY CONLEY, THE ISLAND PACKET

The two candidates vying for the District 7 Beaufort County Council seat met Tuesday night for the first and likely the last forum before the Nov. 6 election.

Cynthia Bensch, 68, argued her business and development background is sorely needed on County Council.

Her opponent, Dan Duryea, cited his experience running the Belfair community, which has about 2,000 residents and a $12-million annual budget. Both are Republicans, although Duryea is running as a petition candidate.

About 25 people attended the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island-Bluffton forum at Bluffton Town Hall.

District 7 was redrawn after the 2010 Census and now includes the Bluffton-Okatie area south of U.S. 278, west of S.C. 170 and north of S.C. 46. Rose Hill, Hampton Hall, Hampton Lake and most of the Buckwalter development are among the communities inside its boundaries.

Here's how the candidates responded on several key issues.

PRIORITIES FOR DISTRICT 7

Bensch wants the county to consider new incentives -- including direct grants to low-income residents -- to speed septic system replacements. She argued these aging systems are more damaging to local waterways than stormwater runoff from new housing developments.

She also wants the county to focus on beautifying medians and lighting local roadways, noting they are major gateways to Hilton Head.

Duryea wants to put off the proposed re-alignment of Bluffton Parkway and direct those funds to more pressing roadway improvements in Bluffton. He also wants the county to build more underground stormwater retention ponds to remove contaminants before they reach local waterways.

He supports efforts such as the May River Action Plan to improve local waterways and says the Colleton River deserves as much attention as the May and Okatie rivers.

Both candidates support installing a traffic light at the intersection of Bluffton Parkway, Crossings Boulevard and Masters Way.

JOBS, EDUCATION AND THE ECONOMY

Bensch said tourism remains the lifeblood of the local economy, but that a shortage of infrastructure such as cell phone towers might keep some companies from locating here. She also said teachers unions bear much of the blame for the state of South Carolina's education system.

Duryea wants to attract more healthcare and technology jobs to the region and says the school district can help by teaching students the skills necessary for high-tech careers.

BEAUFORT COUNTY BOND QUESTIONS

Duryea said he supports the $25 million Rural and Critical Lands bond and the referendum that would change county government to allow the county manager to appoint the auditor and treasurer. He said the new system would give administrators authority to hire candidates with the best credentials rather than simply accepting whoever wins the election.

Bensch opposes both questions. She believes those the auditor and treasurer posts should continue to be elected and said being able to "vote someone out of office is the best way to handle it."

Although she supported past Rural and Critical Lands referendum questions, she says the economy is too fragile to take on more debt.

Questions about the county budget and the upcoming property revaluations did not come up at the event, which relied on audience-submitted questions.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

Related content:

Bensch ran twice for Beaufort County Council in '90s, Oct. 23, 2012

Bensch, Duryea vying for new Beaufort County Council seat, Oct. 22, 2012

Candidate questionnaire: Forrest "Dan" Duryea

Candidate questionnaire: Cynthia Bensch

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