A former Beaufort politician trying to get back in the game painted a picture of wasteful spending by the city during a forum for local candidates Tuesday.
Some of former Beaufort Mayor David Taub’s stances received pushback from City Councilman Mike McFee, who is running for a third term, and downtown business owner Nan Brown Sutton during some of the most contentious, though not heated, moments Tuesday.
The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted the forum for candidates of local races at the USC Beaufort Performing Arts Center. Candidates for County Council District 3 and S.C. House of Representatives Seats 121 and 124 were at the forum.
Three Beaufort City Council candidates vying for two open seats fielded questions from moderator Kevin Dukes on economic development, tourism and parking.
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Taub said the city is guilty of wasteful spending and residents face unnecessary fees, while McFee defended the city’s spending, cited its recognition for financial accounting and at times corrected Taub.
The debate over city spending centered on the Beaufort Commerce Park, the vacant industrial area the city bought out of foreclosure in 2012 that has become a target for criticism.
McFee and Sutton expressed support for the Commerce Park, calling it a long-term tool necessary to draw business and expand the tax base. Taub diverted, saying the city took on the 160-acre property with no plan and suggested the city shop the land to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Taub brought up an SCE&G franchise fee — repeatedly calling it a tax — related to the work on Boundary Street and announced a plan to roll it back. McFee said it wasn’t a tax, was imposed by SCE&G and that Beaufort’s costs for the project had been budgeted.
Among the talking points by City Council candidates Tuesday:
On downtown parking and a proposed garage: Sutton, who owns LuLu Burgess on Bay Street, served on a city parking panel last year and agreed with its finding that more parking was necessary. A parking garage proposed by 303 Associates for its hospitality businesses downtown would benefit the public, even if that meant the employees and guests of 303 properties. McFee noted the city has a consultant ready to work with the city on its own garage if a penny sales tax is passed in November. Taub said the issue was complicated and that he would open talks with developer Dick Stewart about how the city could benefit from the garage.
More on the city’s purchase of the Commerce Park: Sutton said she is amazed at the negative reaction to the Commerce Park and that the space is necessary to attract light industrial businesses and higher paying jobs. McFee said the city recognized nothing had been done the past 20 years related to economic development and that the Commerce Park itself had not failed. Taub called the park a waste of $2 million. “I’m one of those negative voices that think that was a mistake.”
Snapshots from other races
Note: The S.C. House of Representatives Seat 124 forum did not start in time for publication.
Beaufort County Council District 3
York Glover (on the biggest issue of the election): “Jobs, jobs, jobs. We can do more and better.”
Wyman Haigler: “I agree. And if you ask businesses, a qualified workforce is near the top of their lists.”
S.C House of Representatives Seat 121
Michael Rivers (on Hunting Island as an economic driver after Hurricane Matthew): “We have some gems in our area. The hurricane made me think about Penn Center. We have to think about Penn Center in the same vein as Hunting Island.”
James Broderick (said he visited Edisto after the evacuation was lifted): “There is a lot of erosion from this hurricane. I will support funding of building that back up and making sure that is protected as natural resource for the area.”