Mayor candidate calls for combining city and county governments
One of the three Democrats running for the Georgetown mayor’s seat says he would like to see a merger with the county on many services.
Marty Tennant, who faces incumbent Jack Scoville and City Councilman Rudolph Bradley in the Democratic Primary in June, is running on a platform he calls “Envision Georgetown” which he says “proposes the unification of the City of Georgetown and Georgetown County governments.”
Tennant says a decline in the city’s population is one reason he feels consolidation is needed.
“The City of Georgetown’s population is approximately 9,000 people. This number has been in decline for some time. As a result, the cost of City government per person has been increasing. Georgetown County’s total population is approximately 60,000 people. This number has been increasing, mainly on the Waccamaw Neck,” Tennant says in his plan. “The Neck pays 82 percent of the property taxes in the County.”
Bradley said populations in cities have always gone up and down.
“Population increase or decrease in various communities is for one or more reasons but it is not the nail in the coffin. The problem is not a need for unification. It is a lack of concerted good communication,” Bradley said.
Tennant says merging Georgetown city and county government administration, law enforcement, and fire protection “will increase our ability to be heard at the State and Federal level in an era of reduced aid to governments.”
Tennant says because it is surrounded by the more-populated and higher tax-generating counties of Charleston and Horry, Georgetown’s “political clout is weakened with the State and Federal government. Our port is largely unused and ship calls to our port are rare because we can’t get federal funds to dredge the channel in Winyah Bay.”
Tennant said the City has $19 million in cash and the County has $21 million.
“Combining our assets, we can afford to invest in infrastructure improvements for the port and other needed projects such as improved fire protection to strengthen our community,” he said.
Get rid of utilities
Tennant would push for the city to get out of the utility business.
“I will be proposing that the City sell our electric department infrastructure to Santee Cooper, thereby raising more cash and lowering the cost of living for City residents. We could also sell our water and sewer system to Georgetown County Water and Sewer, with similar cost of living benefits,” he said.
Scoville said the city needs to hold on to its utilities.
“Selling our electric department to Santee Cooper would not result in benefits to our citizens. Our residential rates are already among the lowest in the state. Whoever sells us electricity is going to charge retail. The profits should be kept in the city by the citizens, not sent to Moncks Corner or paid out in dividends to a power company’s shareholders,” Scoville said.
Georgetown “low key”
Citing self-imposed limits such as restrictions on high rise hotels and big-box stores on the Waccamaw Neck, Tennant says Georgetown has chosen to be a more “low-key” type destination.
That, he said, “limits our business revenues, sales taxes, and property taxes. As a result, our cost of government is low, but so are our wages for essential government employees.”
Scoville — seeking his second term as mayor — said the merger being proposed by Tennant “would result in decreased services for the residents of the city” and would “vest the governance of the city to the people of the Waccamaw Neck.”
Tennant said under city/county consolidation, the officials, along with people from all areas of the county, “would collectively make decisions about the unified government.”
Tennant said members of county council living outside the Waccamaw Neck do not currently exercise dictatorial control over what happens on the Neck.
“These decisions are made cooperatively by the Council as a whole for the benefit of all citizens. Mr. Scoville is simply wrong, and appears to be fear mongering,” Tennant said.
Scoville said city/county mergers work “when the city is large and can upgrade the services being provided in the rural areas of the county. The opposite is true here. The City would have a decrease in services by merging with the county.”
Bradley said Tennant’s plan is “well written” but he disagrees with the proposal..
“When government fails to act properly when economic growth avails it self is cause for poor revenue,” Bradley said.
Referring to the city’s purchase of the former Eagle Electric in Maryville, which he did not support, Bradley said “you do not take 18 acres of prime commercial real estate that can be used for an industrial park and needlessly increase the departments sizes. I can assure you if I was mayor that would not have happen on my watch.”
Tennant has been a candidate in the past. In 2009 he ran for mayor and was previously on the ballot for S.C. House Seat 108. Until this year, he has run as a Republican.
“There are no Republican potholes or Democrat fires to be put out in our city,” Tennant said when asked about the party switch. “The need for open and accountable government transcends all party lines. I’ve never held political views that I considered to be all Republican or all Democrat. I embrace common sense ideas no matter who or where they come from. The history of Georgetown shows it to be a Democrat leaning city. I want to win this race, so I am running as a Democrat to increase my chances.”
Tennant quoted Scoville from 2009 as saying “there’s not a dime’s bit of difference” in what Republican and Democrat candidates want for the city.
“He said they all want a clean, safe city with flourishing business. I agree with Mr. Scoville,” Tennant said.
Tennant currently has a federal lawsuit filed against the city claiming his civil rights were violated during a city council meeting in February, 2010.
An argument, which can be found on YouTube, erupted during the meeting when Tennant stood up to address council about claims the city had $21 million in undesignated funds.
When Tennant got up to speak, he started addressing Councilman Brendon Barber personally because earlier in the meeting Barber said the slush fund claims were untrue.
“Let’s talk about the $21 million. You brought it up, so let’s talk about it,” Tennant said to Barber.
Barber objected by saying Tennant should have been addressing council as a whole.
“Brendon, you just brought my name up while I was sitting back there,” Tennant fired back.
Mayor Jack Scoville banged the gavel but then Barber told Tennant “you don’t want me to step from behind this podium.”
“Pardon me?” asked Tennant.
“You heard what I said,” Barber answered.
Tennant then left the room while saying he does not want to be involved in a situation where “a councilmember says something like that.”
Tennant said he “would consider dropping this lawsuit” if elected.
That incident, Tennant said, is another reason he decided to try again for the mayor’s seat.
“I’ve taken the attitude that sometimes you have to fight a bully in his own front yard. Mayor Scoville is the bully and the front yard is the Democrat Primary for Mayor of Georgetown,” he said.
By Scott Harper
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