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Horry County Council hopefuls face off at Surfside Beach forum

Voters in Horry County Council District 5 got a chance Thursday night to see the differences between at least two candidates running to be their next councilman.

Two of the three Republicans vying for the seat faced off about their views at a Surfside Beach forum sponsored by the South Strand Republican Club. Bill McKown and Dick Withington faced audience and moderator questions about their priorities if elected, job recruitment and home rule, among other topics.

A third Republican candidate, Paul Price, did not attend the forum. President of the club Tom Herron, who is also a campaign consultant for McKown, said Price had told the club's leadership that Herron's dual role made him uncomfortable. Price did not send a representative to the event to speak in his absence.

The two remaining men distinguished themselves from one another with their takes on economic development strategy and their top priorities if elected. McKown cited returns on a citizen survey he mailed to most of the residents in District 5 asking them to rate the issues the county is facing in order of importance.

"The No. 1 thing was jobs and the economic outlook for our community. Tourism is a great thing, but people are concerned because they see their children and grandchildren losing jobs," he said. "Government spending was the second issue. With the $200 million budget and reassessment coming in 2010 ... we're facing a problem of how do we live within our means. That's going to be a big issue."

Withington said his priorities were to improve the county's roads and appearance to increase tourism and retirement migration, and to improve the quality of life and safety for residents.

"Look at your strengths. Don't go and build some high-tech wondrous operation when you have a billion dollar beach," Withington said. "We have some tremendous natural attributes out here. This is a tourism community, it has the potential to be a top retirement community. Let's make that a priority."

Withington said he wanted to change the rules for Accommodations Tax money to "allow more to be spent on infrastructure." There has been a debate between council members and between the county and state as to whether funds from that tax charged on hotels, campgrounds and other temporary accommodations should be spent on tourism marketing or on needs created by a temporary ballooning population.

McKown said the county could not continue to rely on the beach and tourism to provide all of its jobs. He said he would focus efforts and finding on obtaining a highway and other basic structural needs so businesses would opt to come to the area, as well as attracting diversified, high-tech jobs.

The three men will face each other in the June 8 primary to fill the seat left open by Councilman Howard Barnard, who is running for the Republican nod for Horry County Council Chairman. There's no Democrat on the ticket, so the primary election will likely decide the district's next councilman.