Two Republicans with deep ties to Bluffton but no prior political experience are vying for the Beaufort County Council seat vacated last month by state Rep. Weston Newton.
Tabor Vaux is a lawyer at Bluffton's Vaux & Marscher and the son of local attorney Roberts Vaux. He has been endorsed by most of the county's GOP statehouse delegation.
Mark Lawson is a relations manager with Servpro of Beaufort County. He has coached youth athletics for many years in Bluffton and is running as an outsider.
County Council District 9 includes Daufuskie Island, neighborhoods around Old Town Bluffton, Westbury Park and developments in the New Riverside area.
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The Republican primary is Jan. 29. With no Democrats in the race, the winner of the GOP primary will be named the winner if no write-in candidate emerges by Feb. 2.
TAXES AND SPENDING
Vaux, 29, says the county will likely "roll forward" property tax rates as a result of the ongoing property reassessment. However, he says the impact can be mitigated through budget cuts to "non-essential services."
The state's attorney general's office and many county officials believe tax rates must "roll forward" or rise after a reassessment so that a municipality takes in the same amount of revenue. However, because individual property values change during reassessment, some property owners owe more under a "roll forward" scenario than the year before while others owe less.
"We need to take the budget as a whole and find out what can we do without right now, and where can we save a few pennies here and there," he said. "I firmly believe that everything should be on the table."
Lawson, 47, acknowledges that raising tax rates after the reassessment will affect property owners unevenly but says rolling forward is the "fairest" way. He's open to reducing the budget, but believes most of the easy cuts have been made.
"I don't think there is anybody that I know ... that would want to have less services," he said.
Both candidates promised "flexibility" on property taxes. Neither would pledge never to support higher taxes.
Both also were wary of new cuts to the Beaufort County School District's budget. Although council can't change the district's budget, it sets the tax rates, and in that way has some control over its spending.
The candidates support continuing efforts by the county and Bluffton to protect the May and Okatie rivers. They also urged better cooperation between the county and nearby municipalities.
Both also agreed that the county should seek a long-term solution for ferry service between Hilton Head and Daufuskie islands.
They differed on the estimated $25 million Bluffton Parkway realignment from Buck Island Road to Buckwalter Parkway.
Vaux is willing to consider the project in the future but only when funding is available.
Lawson supports it in part because other "conservative-minded people" such as Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka favor it.
Vaux, whose firm is representing the Graves family in its rezoning request, said he would not vote not on that proposal. He has said in the past that he would not vote on matters involving his law firm.
Lawson hasn't made up his mind on the Graves rezoning but suggested the county should be consistent and fair to all landowners.
The family wants about 113 acres it owns along the Okatie in greater Bluffton rezoned to allow more commercial and residental development. The county's Planning Commission is reviewing that request.
LOW TURNOUT EXPECTED
County election officials say there are about 8,000 eligible voters in District 9, but that only a fraction are expected to cast ballots Tuesday. Any registered voter can vote, regardless of political affliation.
Under the state's voter ID law that took effect, Jan. 1, voters must show a drivers license or photo ID issued by the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles; a U.S. Passport, an S.C. voter registration card with photo or a federal military ID.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Jane Hamilton School on Daufuskie Island, the Bluffton Library and the First Baptist Church-Bluffton.