Beaufort County Council challengers want leaner budget, new leadership

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJune 6, 2014 

  • At the Polls

    Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday throughout Beaufort County.

    When voters enter the polls, they will need to choose which party's primary they will vote in -- Democrat or Republican -- and present photo identification under a new state law.

    In the event of a runoff, voters will only be allowed to cast their ballots for the party they choose on Tuesday. Voters who do not vote Tuesday would still be allowed to vote in a runoff of either party.

    Each voter will be asked to provide a photo ID, unless voters can claim a "reasonable impediment" to explain why they lack one. Accepted photo IDs are a South Carolina driver's license, an S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles issued ID card, an S.C. voter registration card with photo, federal military ID or a U.S. passport.

Three Republican Beaufort County Council challengers want to bring new perspective to the council and cut the county's budget.

The three Republican incumbents they challenge emphasize their experience and their records managing the budget during the recent economic downturn.

The six candidates will vie to win the Republican nominations for their districts in Tuesday's primary election, which also includes about a dozen other county, state and congressional races.

Councilman Stu Rodman will defend his Hilton Head Island seat against attorney Lauren Martel. Jerry Stewart will defend his Sun City Hilton Head seat against history professor Stephen Bacon. Council Chairman Paul Sommerville faces a challenge for his Lady's Island seat from former Beaufort County Board of Education member Jim Bequette.

With no Democrats seeking the seats, the GOP winner likely will remain uncontested in November's general election, unless late-filing candidates submit enough signatures from voters in their districts by mid-July to join the races.

Bacon, Bequette and Martel agree the county needs to reduce its debt and curtail borrowing. They also agree the county's policy to strive for $30 million in its reserve fund, or about 30 percent of its budget, should be reduced by a third.

Sommerville, Stewart and Rodman defend the reserve-fund policy they helped craft, which also was supported by the county's financial adviser earlier this year, they have said.

All of the challengers pledged they would not raise taxes.

Sommerville, Stewart and Rodman voted last month to reduce county department budgets and staff to avoid a tax increase in a preliminary budget for next fiscal year.

Bequette has stressed the importance of creating a system that produces frequent, up-to-date reports of spending and revenue to improve transparency for county finances.

Bacon and Martel also have advocated two-term limits for council members and say it is important to put new faces on the council from time to time. Sommerville, Stewart and Rodman are vying for a third term.

Incumbents in three other County Council seats up for re-election have filed to run again and are unopposed. They are Republicans Steve Fobes and Rick Caporale of Hilton Head Island, and Republican Tabor Vaux of Bluffton.

Democrat Laura Von Harten, who represents Port Royal, will face Independence Party candidate Brian MacDermant in November. MacDermant was charged in August 2009 by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division with threatening then-Gov. Mark Sanford. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor threatening the life of a public official and paid a fine.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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