As the recession draws to a close, Beaufort County will likely return to a state of rapid growth. This shift will present a host of new challenges for Beaufort County Council members.
For example, they will have to decide what role to play in jump starting the economy and attracting new industry and jobs; how to entice new residents while also preserving the county’s natural habitat and how to meet a growing demand for county services for a group of taxpayers who are, by and large, fiscally conservative and staunchly opposed to tax increases.
The next County Council will have a big say in planning post-recession Beaufort County. It is with this in mind that we endorse the following candidates who possess the experience and skilled hands now needed at the wheel:
• In the District 2 Republican primary, current council chairman Paul Sommerville is our choice over challenger Jim Bequette. Sommerville is right that a list of capital projects vying for proceeds from a proposed sales tax increase is a grab bag. And we agree with his approach to only picking projects that are true county needs, not wants.
He also is appropriately skeptical about the county purchasing property for commerce parks because of the county’s lack of success in the past. And we agree with his emphasis on enforcing the county’s strict storm water ordinance and coming up with a long-term solid waste disposal plan. These certainly aren’t glamorous goals, but they prove Sommerville understands the nitty gritty of running a county.
We also applaud his no vote to spend $1 million for property in Buckwalter Place in Bluffton — although he was outvoted. “There were just too few details for me,” he said. But Sommerville did not object to the Buckwalter Place discussions taking place behind closed doors, an approach that left the public in the dark. That was a mistake he should not allow to happen again.
And while Sommerville has been a thoughtful and fair council member, his record as chairman has been spotty, particularly during last year’s budget process when council members got confused on whether an extension of library hours was included in the spending plan.
• In the District 6 race, incumbent Jerry Stewart is our pick over challenger Stephen Bacon. Experience has taught the former professor and CEO that he needs specific parameters by which to judge the onslaught of requests for county money. His adherence to the three E’s — building the economy by attracting new businesses instead of raising property taxes; improving education without granting automatic budget increases to the school district; and protecting the environment — are admirable.
We appreciate Stewart’s command of the issues and his willingness to hear both sides as is the case with the frontage road issue affecting St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church and Berkeley Hall.
And while we do have concerns about his general support of government involvement in economic development efforts, he gets high marks for joining Sommerville and opposing the Buckwalter land buy.
“It’s a land giveaway to a company,” he recently said. “We have too many people who have never been (involved in economic development deals). Twenty minutes (of discussion) and we spent $1 million.”
We urge Stewart to be equally skeptical before voting to buy/improve land for a future commerce park — an idea to which Stewart says he is open.
• And in District 11, incumbent Stewart Rodman is our pick over challenger Lauren Martel. Rodman, who has a strong financial and business background, has played a key role in getting the county on better financial footing, including increasing the reserve fund.
He also has the right approach on picking capital projects that could be paid for by a 1 percent sales tax increase. “We need a few, big projects vs. a handful of scattered, little ones,” he said.
And we support his ongoing efforts to get the school district to reduce its request for $10 million more in next year’s budget. It would be too much of a hit to taxpayers.
But we disagree with Rodman that a portion of the county’s reserve fund should be used for economic development purposes. And Rodman, like Sommerville, fails to see that new protocols are needed for the budget process. They should both reconsider.
Rodman has never received a call from a constituent. We hope his phone rings often in the new term.
We haven’t always agreed with these candidates’ decisions. But each has a command of the issues and a track record worthy of another term. Please consider supporting them Tuesday.