Roads are a big concern of the Republicans running for Horry County Council District 8 in next week’s primary.
Candidates Johnny Vaught, Candace Howell and Daniel Cochran will vie for the seat currently held by Carl Schwartzkopf, who announced he would not seek re-election after serving more than 10 years.
The Sun News asked the candidates about a variety of issues, including transportation, government accountability amid the West Jet deal where the county owed the Canadian airline company more than $550,000 through a revenue guarantee, and about what makes them most qualified for the council seat.
Cochran, a systems support technician at CCU, commended the council on deals such as when gun manufacturer PTR Industries moved to the area and into a pre-built building shell in the county’s industrial park. He said his 25 years of software development experience coupled with 6 1/2 years of hands-on experience in government while he lived in Arizona makes him most qualified to serve on council.
“I would love to build a more proactive plan for county government,” Cochran said, noting the rapid development of Carolina Forest as an example of what he’d like to avoid. “What has happened is 5, 10, 15 years down the road, now we’re dealing with 20,000 cars going down the road where there used to be 2,000 cars or less. In District 8, [U.S.] 501 is a bottleneck. We have to do something to try and fix this. I would love to see light synchronization in place so we can see green, green, green, instead of the Christmas tree green, red, green, red. It would only cost one quarter of what lane expansion costs.”
Howell, a business professor and academic chairwoman at Horry-Georgetown Technical College, said the state and county did a good job widening U.S. 501 northbound and would like to see southbound construction get completed sooner than the planned 2020 time line.
“I’d really like to see that happen a whole lot sooner because it’s really going to ease the flow of traffic for both locals and tourists alike,” Howell said, adding Singleton Ridge Road is another concern of hers. “That is a very heavily traveled road with a major hospital on it. We have a lot of accidents on that road. It has become a very dangerous road... I really feel that we need to look at widening that road and I think that should be the process in RIDE III.”
Vaught, a retired college professor, said he, too, would like to see Singleton Ridge Road addressed by adding a third lane and the southbound U.S. 501 construction bumped up as well.
“It’s ridiculous to have a hospital the size of Conway hospital that is inaccessible except by Singleton Ridge Road,” Vaught said. “That’s crazy. That would be one of my top priorities, making that happen.”
“Let’s move 501 up on the project list,” Vaught said. “Instead of having it a full five years down the road, let’s bring it up. That’s the first thing that tourists do is they get stuck in that traffic going in to the beach. We don’t want them angry when they get to the beach because they were sitting in traffic.”
Vaught said the county needs to have better controls in place to prevent occurrences such as the West Jet contract and the failed Coast RTA bus shelter program, which, because of a delay on Coast’s part, will cost the transit more than $324,000.
“In general, we need to start putting a little bit closer controls on these things because we keep making these deals, but we don’t have control on the back end of it,” Vaught said. “We have to start being accountable to the people... because the money that gets wasted is the taxpayer’s money.”
Howell said she would be most concerned about the county’s return on investment when entering deals like West Jet and the bus shelter program.
“I think this is a matter of due diligence,” Howell said. “We built this beautiful new terminal and of course we want to make sure we have planes at every gate. I still think we need to be very careful about how we’re spending taxpayer dollars, and I’m very conservative in that regards.”
She said she is concerned with parts of the way the county funds Coast RTA.
“We really need to see that audit,” Howell said, referring to an audit the county requested before it funds Coast next year. “We need to make sure we are not spending money in areas that are not going to be beneficial to this community. To see that much money spent on a shelter program that was abandoned is really tragic in my opinion.”
“I think the answer to a lot of these things, too, is clawbacks. If contracts are put in place, we need safeguards for the taxpayers, and that’s the bottom line.”
Cochran said he was not familiar with the Coast RTA bus shelter program, but said the West Jet revenue guarantee sounded like a government bailout.
“I’m not familiar with all the variables that go into [the West Jet deal], but I can tell you on the basis I’m not thrilled with them setting themselves up like that,” Cochran said. “That’s just like bank bailouts.”
Cochran said he would like to see the county explore the idea of bringing a software company, which brings jobs to the area without damaging roads like manufacturing companies sometimes do.
“We’ve got the land in Carolina Forest that we can build on,” Cochran said. “Software campuses coming here would be a wonderful thing.”
Since January, Vaught missed only one county council meeting and attends most council committee meetings, often taking notes and observing county business as it unfolds. He said he is able to attend the meetings because he is retired, but he wants to attend them to make sure he could hit the ground running if he is elected to council.
“When I was asked by my neighbors to run for this office, I made a decision to make it a full-time job,” Vaught said. “I can devote the time and effort into going to these meetings. This is going to be my job... My people would not get up-to-snuff representation from me for a year if I didn’t go to these meetings because that’s how steep that learning curve is.”
Howell said she feels she is best suited for the council seat because of how much she cares about the area and its future, and because she brings a diversity to the all male council.
“For me, it’s about how much I care about this community,” Howell said. I’m raising two kids here, and I have a long-range belief that I think other candidates don’t necessarily have. I’m not just thinking about how can we make things great for Horry County right now. I’m thinking long term... We need to have some of my generation taking charge and stepping up to the plate and making sure that we have a voice in some of the things that are going on in this community. We need some diversity on the council.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.