Candidates face off again for Ward 2 seat

Two candidates familiar to voters will face off for a second time in more than a year for the same position on Hilton Head Island Town Council.

Bill Harkins is seeking re-election to his Ward 2 seat, which covers most of Hilton Head Plantation. Harkins won a 2009 special election to replace Bill Mottel, who resigned for health reasons. The six-person field in the 2009 race included Terry Conway, who will try again for the seat in the nonpartisan election Nov. 2.

Conway said he is displeased with Harkins' leadership on Town Council, stating little has been done under his guidance to enhance public safety.

Harkins is chairman of the town's Public Safety Committee.

Conway, however, failed to give specifics as to how public safety should be improved on the island, beyond additional lighting for roads and public spaces.

"Very little is being done about comments (the town has) received about visibility and feeling of public safety in all parts of the island," he said. "I will take a more active role, if I was on the Public Safety Committee."

Conway also criticized Harkins for comments he has made about strict oversight of the way the town's tax dollars are spent.

"Meeting minutes show he makes little fiscal comment and no fiscal dissent from the council," Conway said.

He said voters are looking for a more proactive and involved council.

"I think I can do that," Conway said, adding he would pursue changes to the town's land management ordinance to make it easier for homeowners and business to make improvements to their properties.

Harkins rebuffed Conway's claims. As chairman of the Public Safety Committee, motions passed to remove trees at the end of the county-owned airport runway, which posed a safety hazard to aircraft, Harkins said.

Harkins said the town also updated its emergency management plan, achieved quicker response times on medical calls, rewrote fire and rescue procedures to be more effective, expanded installation of security cameras and incorporated more training for fire and rescue personnel.

He said he also took the "contrarian position" against a proposal to allow the county's municipalities to impose a sales tax of as much as 1 percent to pay for tourism marketing and tourism-related capital projects.

"That is a regressive tax -- a tax that hurts low- and middle-income people -- and is one more tax layered on top of a potpourri of taxes in a state that has to address systemic tax reform," Harkins said.

He also has made public comments for greater oversight of the chamber's use of accommodations taxes, or "bed taxes" charged on overnight lodging.

"The town has a responsibility to direct the chamber as to where the funds should be used for tourism marketing and has the responsibility to measure the efficacy of that effort on an annual basis, at a minimum, and taking corrective action, if necessary," Harkins said.

He said the town also needs to find more income to offset declining revenue by catering to corporate tourism and attracting information technology, consulting, accounting and research companies and financial firms to diversify the island's tax base.

"We should have a promotional arm, either with the chamber or an economic development group, that tells the story of Hilton Head, beside (being) a good place to live and play, but a good place to work," Harkins said.

He said he wants to preserve the best of what the island has while maintaining "a sound economic climate."

"(Voters) are looking for a leadership team that can make that happen and I would certainly hope to be part of that group, and can be very helpful," he said.