Tega Cay City Council candidates joust to woo voters at forum

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comOctober 28, 2013 

— Whether they’d purchase a problematic utility, put up a new fire station or look to annex more property distinguished five candidates for Tega Cay’s two City Council seats Wednesday.

Several questions on Tega Cay Water Service awaited the candidates at a forum held at the Glennon Center. They varied on what to do with the company that’s had more than 30 spills this year alone.

“We keep writing letters and we keep making phone calls,” said first-time candidate David O’Neal, “but if we do the same things we’ll get the same results.”

O’Neal favors filing “a lawsuit of some sort” against the company to stop the spills, but wouldn’t be “too accepting” of a plan to purchase the company’s operations in Tega Cay. Phillip Zima said the city needs to “seriously consider” purchasing since “over the last few years it’s gotten worse.”

Lisa Marie Johnson, also making her first run for the city council, said she personally doesn’t favor buying the utility, but would if residents voted that way, and doesn’t favor litigation “when the outcome is questionable.”

Candidate Jennifer Stalford, another candidate experiencing her first election, would need lots more “due diligence” before she’d be in favor of buying, and even then not if the cost comes out of citizens’ pockets.

Stalford said she does see making such a purchase as the timelier alternative.

“It would not take nearly the time as suing someone,” Stalford said.

Incumbent Dottie Hersey said state or federal litigation is an option, but could take years, and the repetitive nature of increasing rates to pay for improvements won’t stop without action. Purchase of the system through a revenue bond is “probably where we are at this point,” she said.

O’Neal said he doesn’t “think we have the capability of running it ourselves” and Johnson doesn’t believe the city “should be in the business of owning water systems,” though other candidates noted the city already operates Tega Cay Utilities Department in newer sections of the city.

Annexation was another spot where candidates made their cases. Hersey said she “was a little naive” when she ran and won four years ago, now seeing the value of commercial annexation versus residential. Others agreed. Johnson in particular didn’t support the idea of more residential annexation.

“We don’t need more communities that don’t feel as though they’re a part of this community,” she said.

O’Neal said he isn’t sure of the financial benefit of residential annexation compared to the costs of public services, like a new fire station.

“We lose the footprint of our city, what our city used to be,” he said.

Zima said he’d like to see the city move toward a fully paid fire department, while Stalford doesn’t think a new fire station is needed and Johnson called a new station a “human concern” that should be built if recent annexation requires it. Several candidates agreed the city can do more to market and support new businesses.

The candidates will continue meeting with residents ahead of the Nov. 5 election that also will choose a mayor from three candidates. Council candidate Walt Krasinski wasn’t present at the forum Wednesday. He said after the event via email that he’s still in the running, but was visiting family facing health concerns in Indiana.

“This trip was scheduled two months ago before they announced the date for the forum,” he wrote.

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