Differing visions in District 4

PHOTO PROVIDED Dorchester County Councilman Larry Hargett is running for re-election in the June Republican primary.

Dorchester County Council Chairman Larry Hargett, a nine-year incumbent, is facing a challenge from a man who says he’s not conservative enough.

John Hull, Hargett’s challenger for the District 4 seat in the Republican primary, is chairman of the Summerville 9-12 Project, which espouses tea party values and principles, such as limited government and free markets. Hargett is a member. But Hull says he would do a better job applying those conservative principles to county government.

For instance, when it comes to managing growth to relieve the county’s overcrowded schools, Hull said he would resist zoning that infringes on property rights. Instead, he would propose that the county create a district where people without children in public schools could live and not pay school taxes.

“The goal should be to let the free market decide,” he said.

Hargett said Hull’s vision isn’t practical.

“County Council could not do that by law,” Hargett said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea anyway. He wants to talk about liberty and freedom, our country and stuff. I believe all that too, but it really doesn’t have much to do with running for County Council.”

Hargett took the lead in drafting the county’s Ashley River Historic Overlay District, which limited development along S.C. Highway 61. The ordinance was inspired by a developer’s plans to build thousands of houses at Watson Hill near Middleton Place plantation.

Hull also said council has not been aggressive enough in cutting back government, especially in a time of financial uncertainty. For instance, the county should not have spent $5 million on a new park, he said, referring to the Richard Rosebrock Park at Highway 61 and Bacon’s Bridge Road.

“I think they paid an awful lot of money for that land,” Hull said. “I think the price tag at this point and the timing were not good.”

Hargett said council simply put the question on a referendum, and voters passed it by a 63 percent majority.

Hull also said the county keeps too much money in its reserve fund, $18 million for a $40 million operating budget.

Hargett said the reserve fund is actually about $15 million, and it’s needed for an emergency.

“If we had one hurricane, another Hugo, that $15 million would get wiped out in about a month,” he said.