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KCC candidates answer questions on ‘Chinese overtime,’ economic development

Posted: June 5, 2014 5:36 p.m.
Updated: June 6, 2014 5:00 a.m.

District 6 candidates Howard Buckholz (left) and Tom Gardner (right).

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Kershaw County Council Chairman

Q: What would you say makes you most qualified to be county council chairman?

Julian Burns: I bring to the chairman’s position, a lifetime of training, strength of character and expertise in leading complex organizations and solving the toughest problems in collaboration and building consensus with others. My track record includes managing business start-ups, corporate re-locations, and making introductions for private and public enterprises. As a former two-star General, I led commands in countries all over the world with budgets of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their families. I am ready and able to attract the best kinds of industry to invest here in our county and to work for all the people of Kershaw County.

Ben Connell: The feedback I have received from Kershaw County residents is that they appreciate as qualifications my integrity along with my experience as a leader and voice of reason in business, law and entrepreneurship.

Gene Hartis: For over 28 years I have served the people of Kershaw County as the senior Summary Court judge. During that period, I have attended well over 400 county council meetings. I have participated in numerous other development meetings, most recently the Midlands Economic Development meeting in Sumter.

Additionally, I have spoken with many of the business leaders throughout the county concerning how to place our county in a better position to attract environmentally friendly companies.

These facts plus my masters degree in public affairs makes me eminently qualified for the position of Kershaw County Council chairman.

Q: What would you see as your primary role if elected county council chairman?

Burns: The role of chairman is to serve the council and the county by setting (the) agenda, conducting business in an orderly workmanlike way that encourages team work in the county and enhances business and the public well-being. I am eager to work with my fellow councilmen, the county workforce and with the civic and business and church and non-profit organizations to build the consensus needed to reach our goals. I put people first, and always seek open and transparent consensus towards fact based, goal-oriented, results driven decisions.

Connell: The council chairman is responsible for moderating and directing council meetings, representing the entire county through an at-large seat, and serving as an honorable and fair representative of Kershaw County when interacting with existing or prospective businesses. In addition to those responsibilities, my primary role would be to build a consensus around good ideas, particularly those impacting economic development, and work to get those ideas implemented in Kershaw County.

Hartis: I envision my primary role as Kershaw County Council chairman is to position our county in such a place to make it the most attractive county in South Carolina in which to live or to build a business.

Q: What do you believe is the No. 1 issue council needs to work on during the next four years?

Burns: Jobs and economic development. While there has been some economic growth in some of our existing businesses, Kershaw County has not had any new industry in over nine years. It is a global economy. Some of our largest employers in the county are foreign-based and maintain offices around the world. All look for a skilled workforce, good schools, and a pro-manufacturing government and community to partner with, among other things. I believe it is Kershaw County’s time to take center stage and declare that “we are open for business.” I have the experience to bring businesses here. Only then can we sustain what we love about our county and provide a better future for our children with recreation and education and good jobs to come home to after college and/or service to country.

Connell: Generally, after attending several council meetings, it appears that our county council needs to strengthen a unified and professional reputation in engaging the public and working with prospective businesses. Our county council should instill confidence in everyone they individually or collectively interact with.

Specifically, county council should focus on economic development in Kershaw County so that business growth can 1) bolster and complement residential growth, 2) support improvements in recreation and education, and 3) increase our overall quality of life.

Hartis: Our council needs to work together to improve our infrastructure making our county ready (when) industry comes calling.

Q: Do you support DHEC providing Palmetto Utilities with a 6 million gallon per day permit to discharge wastewater into Spears Creek inside the county? Why or why not?

Burns: The provision of utilities is absolutely key to our communities and to economic growth. Water, electricity, sewage and infrastructure are at the top of my list to attract new business and grow current business. I would want the county council fully informed on all facts bearing on the use of the Wateree and Spears Creek. Personally, I would need access to much more information to form an opinion: I am keen to know the environmental impacts to our water, I am keen to preserve options for our county leadership to enhance our growth, and I am keen to conduct the decision processes with clear ethical standards and transparency for all concerned.

Connell: I understand Palmetto Utilities currently has a 6 million gallon per day permit to discharge its effluent into the Wateree River within Kershaw County’s borders and that Palmetto Utilities is now seeking to have that discharge permit reallocated to Spears Creek. Spears Creek, along with other tributaries, ultimately flow into the Wateree River outside of Kershaw County. So, for me the question is do I prefer wastewater being discharged into the Wateree River inside of Kershaw County or outside of Kershaw County? I would tend to favor that effluent entering the Wateree River outside of Kershaw County.

However, I understand Kershaw County has requested more data regarding how this potential increase in flow would affect Spears Creek. In addition to needing to know more about the impact of increased flow, in order to be able to answer this question, I would need to know the total wastewater capacity Spears Creek has since local municipalities and prospective businesses may also have an interest in discharging effluent into Spears Creek in the future. Further, to properly answer this question, I would also need to know if the proposed reallocation would result in a net increase in waste water capacity for the Wateree River within Kershaw County, creating opportunities for other businesses in the county to expand if additional capacity was needed. I believe Kershaw County currently has experts looking into these issues.

Hartis: I do not at this time support the DHEC proposal to permit Palmetto Utilities to dump wastewater into Spears Creek. Several years ago, when Palmetto Utilities wanted to run a sewage line into the Wateree River, that permit was denied. Frankly, I am very hesitant to allow a company with a less than desirable reputation to put 6 million gallons of waste water in our waterways.

Such a permit would also make Kershaw County a much less desirable place for other industries to locate or to establish a business.

Q: Would you support appropriating additional funds to the KCSO for both additional manpower and to end the practice of “Chinese overtime” (the practice of paying deputies increasingly less money per hour for each additional they work over 40 hours per week)? Why or why not and, if you do, how would you go about providing those additional funds?

Burns: Security of our population in their lives and homes and in our businesses is absolutely non-negotiable. It is a fundamental right and a clear expectation of the population. Our KC Sheriff’s Office is at center stage in that role. I will want to review the budget which is with the current council now in draft form before making a judgment. I fully support full pay and benefits for our law enforcement personnel as well as for our firemen and other public servants.

Connell: I believe in accountability in government and that each government entity should follow a budget because taxpayers must follow a budget. To the extent the sheriff’s office can demonstrate a need for additional manpower based on population growth or increased safety concerns, I would be in favor of increasing their budget to support additional deputies. If an increase in deputies was required due to population growth, the new tax base itself may offset proposed personnel costs. If more personnel were requested based on increased crime, perhaps it would be wise to review our procedures to determine if there are best practices we can implement first before we try to increase taxes to hire more personnel.

Regarding the overtime issue, we have the benefit of several years of data to consider. Thus, there is some predictability in overtime budgeting based on costs incurred in prior years. With that data, it becomes a scheduling, logistics and budgeting exercise for the sheriff’s office to plan for costs related to overtime each fiscal year and then request those funds from county council.

If a disaster or unusual event occurred, like a severe hurricane, the budgeted overtime would likely be exceeded in providing the safety and emergency services needed. In such an unusual situation, I would be in favor of increasing the overtime pay budget because the sheriff’s office would have encountered an unanticipated but necessary cost. If additional overtime funds were required due to an exceptional event, instead of raising taxes, the funds could be paid out of a capital reserve/emergency fund. This means the county would actually have to save some small percentage of its revenue each year for future capital projects or for emergencies like the hurricane example described above.

Hartis: I will not support any additional funding for the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office in the upcoming year. Each year for the past three years, the KCSO has received a funding increase. Over the same time period other, equally deserving county agencies have not received additional funds. They, too, need to be adequately funded.

I do support the ending of the “Chinese Overtime” in the KCSO. I realize it is difficult to put a dollar amount on these costs, but we do need to have some idea how much overtime funding is needed. I believe we should look back over the past three years of overtime paid and estimate the amount needed. Having made that determination, the council can then look into places where the money can be obtained.

Q: The state legislature continues to not provide local governments with the statutorily required levels of funding to conduct state-mandated business. In order to compensate, would you support tax increases to fill the gap in funds, or is there some other way you believe the county should respond to the problem?

Burns: Our county is constitutionally reliant on the state for many funds, some of which are withheld without notice, and, likewise, the county also takes direction from the state in a number of policies which only increase costs, at the expense of vital local programs for some of the most vulnerable in our population. In addition, federal regulations are beginning to appear which also add administrative burdens and costs. Unfunded mandates are a significant concern, and must be addressed. The first step is that our population be informed of these costs, and then our elected representatives in the legislature be made aware so they can fight for us in Columbia. I intend to be deeply involved in that process. Second, the voters can count on me to work with our representatives to join in that effort. Third, when all else fails, of course we will address in council these unfunded mandates and address them where scarce resources can be applied. We as a team in the council will make those risks public -- seeking the views of the people in an open and transparent way.

Connell: The first line of interest here would be to contact our local state representatives who can directly impact the legislative process by either changing the performance requirements for Kershaw County or otherwise allocating the funding needed to conduct state-mandated business. While I would generally disfavor a tax increase to conduct all state-mandated business, I would suggest a case-by-case approach to evaluating whether there are essential services which we need (to be) funded and whether an increase in taxes would be justified when compared to those needs.

Hartis: In order to compensate for mandated state funds that have been withheld the council must look into other ways to raise the money. I will not support a raise in property taxes nor a tax increase on businesses. I believe the council will have to look at alternatives such as the $.01 sales tax. I believe that it is the fairest way to increase funds. If this tax increase is approved by the council, I believe that the money must be earmarked for specific purposes and the tax should expire after a set time period.

Q: What do you believe the county council’s role is in promoting economic development for the county and what would you do to attract new businesses or expand existing business in the county?

Burns: Economic development is my number one goal, because it fuels everything else. While government doesn't create jobs, an effective Kershaw government working with business can create the conditions and climate for growth. Economic growth is the engine to drive a wholesome and fulfilling life in all aspects of our community life in Kershaw County. My goals are to grow current business, and to attract new businesses by harnessing all the resources of local and state organizations, investors, national and international businesses. The council is the public and most visible face of the county in economic development, and can exert its influence in setting the conditions for economic and business success in the county, and making new business moves here attractive and compelling. As a private citizen, I have spent much of the past year visiting businesses and working with the county to help grow businesses here. And, as chairman, I intend to work with my fellow council members to exercise that role to the fullest.

Connell: In my view, the county council should present a united and supportive front in working with prospective businesses which are considering a move into Kershaw County. New businesses want predictability and certainty surrounding their investment. One of the best ways to show a business that its investment in Kershaw County is sound is to demonstrate that local government and the community will support them. We must help prospective businesses understand that government can work hand in hand with the private sector when needed, and move out of the way when necessary so that the private sector can grow. I also think it is also county council’s responsibility to make sure all the leaders and decision makers in the county (fire, law enforcement, utilities, along with other capable administrators) are available and united in addressing any questions prospective business may have.

For existing businesses, I would introduce them to the South Carolina Manufacturing Exchange Partnership, a non-profit consulting group which provides complementary consulting services to South Carolina companies. For prospective business, in addition to the ideas discussed above, we must continue to aggressively promote our work sites and seek out opportunities to show case the great people of Kershaw County, including the outstanding work force available through our local high schools, ATEC, and Central Carolina.

Hartis: I believe the council’s role in promoting economic development is two-fold. The first is to have a fully prepared infrastructure. The second is to have a responsive educational system that can train workers to be able to do the jobs that new business will bring to our county.

As Bobby Hill said at the Committee of 100 meeting, “You have to set the table before you can eat.” The council must set that table.

Q: What is something most residents wouldn’t know about you?

Burns: Ruth Ann and I are expecting twin grandchildren from our Special Forces daughter -- a boy and a girl -- while our son-in-law is in Afghanistan, and while we are planning a wedding in Kershaw County for our youngest daughter -- all at the same time in the fall.

Also, I know all the words to the country song, “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road,” but don’t ask me to sing it!

Connell: While most people know I am a big athletics supporter and work locally as an attorney, folks might be surprised to know I am passionate about the arts, with a background in finger style guitar and having created a number of driftwood art sculptures.

Hartis: Most residents do not realize that I have been preparing for this position throughout my professional career. I have worked with nearly every county official, both elected and appointed.

All of this preparation, when I win, will be key in moving our county to even greater success as a place to call home and a place to do business.

Kershaw County Council Seat No. 6

Q: What’s the one reason people should vote for you to be on county council?

Howard Buckholz: I am a very conservative businessman! I care about where I live and work. I will focus on the absolute necessary needs of my county and my district and begin to clean up what we absolutely do not need. I will look for ways to decrease taxes of business and property owners. I will also make known to my district that I am their representative and that I am available to meet and talk, this is very important to me.

Q: Why should people in your district vote to return you to your council seat? Do you have any unfinished goals you would like to accomplish while on council?

Tom Gardner: My experience from serving three and a half years on council and the knowledge I have gained will enable me to better represent my district and all of Kershaw County. I am very accessible to my constituents and am always willing to answer questions or concerns that they might have. I have no hidden agendas and only want to move Kershaw County forward. I have friends and family in my district and in fact throughout the county. I was born and raised in the Buffalo-Mt Pisgah community. My children grew up and went to public schools in this county -- in fact my daughter is a third generation educator here. I know what a great place Kershaw County is to live and work in, but will also admit we have areas that need improvement. I would like the opportunity to continue working toward making Kershaw County even better for all of us.

I would like to have the opportunity continue to work on Council’s three areas of priority: economic development, education and recreation. A personal goal of mine is to give the county employees a raise and to create a capital budget.

Q: What do you believe is the No. 1 issue council needs to work on during the next four years?

Buckholz: To actually get people more involved with where they live and what is going on around them is my main concern. This may sound silly, but it is quite true that most taxpayers do not know who their councilman is. More citizens involved equals more knowledge and certainly more care. This leads to greater things such as more county employment (jobs), better schools, economy, etc. ... so this may be a key lead to our economic growth.

Gardner: Without a doubt I think economic development is of the upmost importance. New businesses would add new funding sources and bring additional residents to Kershaw County which would expand our tax base.

Q: Do you support DHEC providing Palmetto Utilities with a 6 million gallon per day permit to discharge wastewater into Spears Creek inside the county. Why or why not?

Buckholz: KC Council has been working on this project for quite some time. DHEC has been involved. Therefore, in my opinion, I would only do what is right without damaging our environment or our economy. I am not on the council and I do not know all  the details. I am sure that as a councilman, I would only want what is right for our Spears Creek environment. Community involvement in that area would tell me a lot and would help base my opinions and decisions.

Gardner: In my opinion, council needs to gather more information before we make a final decision on this proposal.

Q: Would you support appropriating additional funds to the KCSO for both additional manpower and to end the practice of “Chinese overtime?” Why or why not and, if you do, how would you go about providing those additional funds?

Buckholz: I absolutely do support appropriating funds to our sheriff’s office. This is no more than simple common sense. Our sheriff needs additional manpower, each deputy needs a pay increase, and this Chinese overtime needs to disappear. Our sheriff can supply us (citizens), much better law enforcement with adequate funding. You get what you pay for! The Matthews sheriff’s office is a model department. The people know this and support it. Funding will be a matter of planning and placing funds in the most important places. Law enforcement is extremely important whether you admit it or not. 

Gardner: I certainly support ending Chinese overtime and adding additional manpower to the sheriff’s office. However, council has to be cognizant of the fact that all of our departments have needs as well. I don’t have an answer to funding other than the fact that property taxes are used to fund these budget items. I am not in favor of continually asking our tax payers to endure the large tax increases required to fund these two proposals.

Q: The state legislature continues to not provide local governments with the statutorily required levels of funding to conduct state-mandated business. In order to compensate, would you support tax increases to fill the gap in funds, or is there some other way you believe the county should respond to the problem?

Bukcholz: It would be nice to have the state of S.C. fund everything. They already fund quite a bit which is quite a lot. Fact is, the state cannot keep funding and funding. They know where to stop. Local governments thrive upon themselves. Taxes are collected to support them. A new tax increase … just because the state will not, is something I am not in support of. Local governments are a business, we must run them like a business, be firm and follow the rules -- is this really a problem? We can take care of this ourselves. 

Gardner: I obviously believe that the state should fund counties to the level required by law. However, when those funds are not provided, we have no recourse against them. Again, I don’t believe we can ask our citizens to continually foot the bill for these mandates. The answer lies in economic development and expanding our tax base.

Q: What do you believe the county council’s role is in promoting economic development for the county and what would you do to attract new business or expand existing businesses in the county?

Buckholz: The county council's role in economic development should be exactly like a conservative businessman’s role: the council is a business, conservative and strong. Seeing prospering business come to life increases jobs and tax revenue. Council should encourage the readiness of our county’s infrastructure. This will attract international companies to do business in Kershaw County. Companies attract more companies; this equals jobs.

Gardner: Our role as county council is to provide a healthy business climate through low taxes, an educated work force and a safe working and living environment. We need to be able to provide employees of any business we recruit with excellent schools and recreational facilities for their children. Council must also work closely with our economic development staff, city council, the school board, the hospital board and current business and industry leaders to promote our county and attract new businesses.

Q: What is something most residents wouldn’t know about you?

Buckholz: Most people would not know that I am very conservative. You are only as good as your help is and that is a fact. I love my family, my wife, sister, mother, children and grandchildren. I love dogs, all animals. I love antique automobiles, the older I get the more I love and appreciate life, I must pass this along!

Gardner: Most people don’t know that I was an All American basketball player in college and was inducted into my university’s athletic hall of fame or that I wear a size 18 shoe!


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