Job creation and the local economy topped the list of concerns at the Bluffton Town Council candidate forum Thursday night.
Six of the seven hopefuls-- vying for two at-large seats -- agreed council should promote job creation.
About 20 people attended the forum at Town Hall to watch moderator Anneliza Itkor question incumbent Michael Raymond and challengers Gary Bensch, Fred Hamilton, Garfield Moss, Larry Toomer and Charlie Wetmore. Incumbent Oliver Brown did not attend and attempts to reach him Thursday night were unsuccessful.
Giving each candidate a little more than 2 minutes to respond, Itkor asked the hopefuls to lay out their plan to create more jobs in town.
Moss said job creation was a key aspect for Bluffton's future. He cited his plans to renovate the Graves House, a historic property on Calhoun Street, and said that as a homebuilder, he would employ 12 apprentices if the town approves his renovation plan.
Hamilton agreed on the importance of job creation, but said new businesses coming to Bluffton usually bring out-of-state employees and don't hire locally.
"That's not doing anything for us here," he said.
Toomer called himself a job creator, saying he employs more than 25 at his Bluffton Family Seafood House.
Bensch also emphasized job creation as an important economic driver, but said town fees for local businesses are too high. Those fees discourages hiring more staff, he said.
Citing the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, a business incubator, as an example of economic growth, Raymond said the town has the potential to be, "the economic engine of the county."
"Those companies (from the center) will create the jobs once they get off the ground."
Wetmore disagreed. He said the incubator is the wrong way to spur employment.
"These jobs aren't guaranteed to stay in Bluffton," he said of work produced by companies that graduate from the center. "We need guarantees."
Candidates were also questioned on their stance on annexation.
Wetmore said annexation can be useful in doses, and cited Palmetto Bluff as an example.
"I'm not saying we shouldn't annex, but we can't give things away," he said.
Hamilton, on the other hand, said he was a proponent of annexation, and had worked with the town to add several neighborhoods in the past.
Unconvinced the town had completed all it has promised for areas already annexed, Toomer said the town should halt annexation -- at least for now.
He pointed to the Buck Island-Simmonsville roads neighborhood annexation, saying "those areas still need sidewalks and streetlights. Let's help the people already annexed first."
Bensch said that annexation has "led to some of the most successful things Bluffton has done," and expanded the tax base. He tempered his comment by saying annexation needs to happen on an individual basis.
Studying annexation on a case-by-case basis is something Raymond said he is experienced at.
He pointed to his background on council and town staff as proof that he can "get underneath most complex issues."
Moss was the only candidate who said he would ban annexation.
"We already have severe problems in town now," he said. "I'd like for everything to slow down."
The forum was sponsored by WHHI and will air there from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday. It will then air daily until the Nov. 5 election.