Council candidates split on key issues facing Mt. Pleasant

Eleven candidates for Mount Pleasant Town Council hold up a yes or no card showing how they come down on one of several questions posed during the lightening round of Monday’s forum. Robert Behre/Staff

MOUNT PLEASANT — Most candidates running for Town Council here support the proposed changes to the town’s growth management plan, but they also say the rapid population growth is a plus.

“I have five children of various ages, so absolutely I want all of my children to be able to live and work in Mount Pleasant,” said Jim Owens, one of the candidates. “We have to shore up our town and our zoning to make sure that we don’t make incremental changes that are going to hurt their ability to live and work here.”

Eleven of the 12 candidates appeared Monday before the East Cooper Republican Club for a fast-paced forum designed to help residents decide which four they want to vote for on Nov. 3.

One of the biggest splits came when candidates were asked if they support the town’s Nov. 3 referendum that asks voters if they want higher property taxes in exchange for improving the town’s recreation offerings and buying new public land.

Several said they did not, including former Councilman Joe Bustos, newspaper columnist Will Haynie, planning commissioner Bob Brimmer and Owens, who is an officer with the nonprofit Save Shem Creek. Most said the town should have done more to explain where the money would go.

Former Councilman Nick Collins also expressed concern about that lack of detail, but incumbent Chris Nickels said that if the tax increase passes, “I’m sure the council will be mindful of where that money came from and spend it wisely.”

Incumbents Chris O’Neal and Ken Glasson also said they support the referendum, as did businessman Ben Bryson, auctioneer Julio Avendano and businessman Rodly Millet.

Most of the questions revolved around residential and business growth — and its impact on current residents, though most questions went to a single candidate and the other 10 did not have a chance to weigh in. Bryson said the questions were the best among the forums held to date, even though it lasted only about 45 minutes.

Only one candidate, motivational speaker Christian Bramson, was unable to attend.

Haynie was the only candidate who expressed reservation about the town’s current form of government, while Bustos was the only candidate who said he disagreed with the town’s budget priorities.

Asked if he would scrutinize the budget for places to trim or support new programs, Millet said, “I think I have a responsibility to do both. I don’t think it’s a yes or no.”

Another question asked about gentrification and the area’s lower-income community, but Avendano said he was not sure what government could do there. “The prices of homes are market-driven,” he said.

O’Neal said the town’s finances are in “tremendous shape” and noted fees on new building help the town’s bottom line. “If you see a steady growth rate in the town of Mount Pleasant of 3 or 4 percent, you should be happy,” he said.

The town’s fees on new homes already are at least twice as high as its nearby cities, but Owens and Millet said they would be willing to increase them.

Given the number of candidates and nonpartisan nature of the race, even the town’s most plugged in political figures still are making up their mind. Mayor Linda Page said she knows who she is leaning toward voting for, “but I’ve got some wiggle room.”

There will be at least two more forums before the election. The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 3.

Reach Robert Behre at (843) 937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.