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Horry County chairman hopefuls talk issues

The Republican primary for Horry County Council chairman pits a current council member against a relative newcomer on the Horry County political scene.

When current Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland announced in March that she would not run for re-election, the move prompted a number of possible candidates to consider seeking the county's leadership post.

Current Horry County District 5 Councilman Howard Barnard and Myrtle Beach tax attorney Tom Rice will face off in the Republican primary on Tuesday. The winner will face the only Democrat to file, local activist Vincent Lehotsky, in November.

Barnard, one of the first candidates to declare his intentions for the seat, has been on the council for six years. He is running his campaign on his experience with local government and results in keeping a series of mostly road-related promises to District 5 residents.

Tom Rice came onto the political radar in 2008 as a leader in the Take Back May group that advocated, with the city of Myrtle Beach, for stricter laws on motorcycles to deal with increased issues surrounding the May motorcycle rallies. Since then, Rice has said in several debates that he still believes the majority of residents supported strengthening regulations for the rallies.

Rice said he does not want to be pegged as a single-issue candidate and has highlighted his desire to bring a better working relationship to the council and between the county, cities and state delegation.

During his tenure, Barnard has faced some criticism over whether or not local taxes needed to be paid on an airplane owned by an out-of-state LLC in which he has a share. Local taxes were paid on the plane, which was registered in Delaware, through this year when Barnard said he sold his share of the aircraft.

The state law, which some complained was hazy, does not require planes registered to out-of-state companies to pay local taxes.

Question | With expectations for county budgets in the next few years being dire, what plans do you have to either increase revenue or decrease spending?

Barnard | The recession has slowed a decade of explosive growth. We're all eager to return to better days, but one positive effect is that we have used this period to reduce the size of government without dramatic cuts in services. Council has accurately anticipated fluctuations in revenue and adjusted spending accordingly.

Rice | Revenue increases are not realistic in the foreseeable future. I will explore with department heads ideas to make the delivery of services more efficient. While I am certain that some personnel cuts will be unavoidable, I will strive to achieve those cuts without material effect on services.

Q. | What plans do you have for job creation in the county and what can the council do to make that happen?

Barnard | With the exception of infrastructure (i.e. new roads, airport terminals, libraries, recreation centers and our new maritime and aeronautical parks), government does not create jobs. It must, however, provide an environment that encourages more job creation in the private sector. With that goal in mind, council is currently restructuring the Economic Development Corporation.

Rice | Of the 334 largest counties in the U.S., Horry County ranks dead last in worker pay. Dead last! We need to protect tourism, but we must attract other industry and higher paying jobs. We can't afford to cut funding for economic development. We must make economic development a top priority

Q. | Do you support public transportation in the county, and if the Coast Regional Transportation Authority is part of that plan, what are your funding ideas for the agency?

Barnard | I support public transportation and served on the Coast RTA Board. Because this is an important issue involving public funding, I support a November referendum calling for dedicated millage to provide permanent funding for Coast - just as we did for roads with RIDE II.

Rice | We must provide a basic public transportation system. This is certainly an obligation to meet the needs of those less fortunate. But, beyond that we must have the basics in place to provide for everyone during an oil crisis or other disruption where fuel becomes unavailable, or prices skyrocket.

Q. | How will you ensure a balance between the service needs of residents in the cities and the unincorporated rural residents?

Barnard | The residents of cities and towns pay additional taxes to have the additional services the cities and towns provided. County residents who want these services provided can choose to be annexed into the municipalities that provide them.

Rice | It is unreasonable to expect the county to be able to match the service level of the municipalities. The county has made great strides in this regard in recent years, but the next few years will be difficult, regardless of who is elected. Public Safety will have to remain top priority.

Q. | What are your ideas for leading the council and working with the cities and the Statehouse delegation to better accomplish the needs of the county, including issues like flow control or the point of sales legislation?

Barnard | I have close, long-term working relationships with our federal and state and local elected officials. As chairman, I will work with County Council to develop similar relationships with our municipalities, school board, and our state delegation.

Rice | Too often in the Independent Republic of Horry, we go our own way. United we stand, and divided we fall. I have already met with many of the municipal officials to express my openness to better communication and cooperation. To make significant progress, we must stand together.