Voters returned one town council member to office in the Nov. 7 election, but a run-off will be held Nov. 21 to determine the fate of another incumbent.
Vote totals certified by York County elections officials showed incumbent Larry Huntley retaining his Ward 3 seat by a 2-to-1 margin over challenger John Beilsmith. Huntley received 858 votes to 415 for Beilsmith.
Beilsmith’s wife, Julia Beilsmith, meanwhile, will face incumbent Trudie Heemsoth in a runoff for an at-large seat. Heemsoth earned 646 votes (49.69 percent) in last Tuesday’s election, but failed to receive more than 50 percent of the vote, necessitating the runoff. Beilsmith picked up 415 votes (26.31 percent). Challenger Patti Rumsey received 306 votes (23.54 percent).
Fort Mill Town Council members serve four-year terms.
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Huntley, a resident of more than three decades who retired from a plant manager job in Van Wyck 16 years ago and started on council five years later, said he was a little worried that too many newer residents might lean toward Beilsmith.
“I feel good,” about the results,” Huntley said. “The only (area) I was concerned about was Doby’s Bridge (Road) because that’s where a lot of new people live and I lost that one 49 to 47.”
During two roundtable discussions in October, the candidates talked about residential and commercial growth, the prime issue with residents the past few elections. None said they are against growth, but are interested in ways to keep residential building less dense while encouraging more businesses to open in town, specifically in the downtown area.
Making Main Street one-way and creating more parking could be one solution, all agreed, an the two incumbents said those ideas are on the table in town council discussions.
“I realize there’s a growth problem and traffic problem, but I think we got the point across that the traffic is pass-through traffic (and the county and state’s responsbility),” Huntley said. He also pointed to infrastructure and fiscal improvements the town has made while he’s been on council as a reason voters gave him another term,
“We doubled the size of our sewer plant and we’re $800,000 in the black even though we spent money this year we hadn’t planned on,” he said.
Heemsoth, a former Fort Mill school board member and Chamber of Commerce leader, won a special election last year to finish out the term left on Guynn Savage’s at-large seat when Savage was elected mayor. She said a run-off election to decide a winner didn’t come as a surprise.
“I know when you have three (candidates) it could split, so I expected that,” Heemsoth said.
“I would like to thank those who had the confidence in me to vote for me and if there is a runoff, I’d hope they would vote for me again.”
Julia Beilsmith, who ran against Huntley in Ward 3 four years ago, said she was happy to win more votes than she did the last time out, when only about 400 total votes were cast.
“It’s better than last time,” she said.
This time around, Beilsmith said she was a little more aggressive campaigning.
“I reached out to different people in the community and asked their opinions on what they wanted to see and had very candid discussions with them about what they want to see,” she said.
Rumsey, who said she supports Beilsmith in the run-off, said she plasantly surprised with how many votes she received.
“I’m astonished,” she said. “I had no money, no volunteers, did not put up one poster. I did not knock on doors other than in my (Waterside) neighborhood. It’s astonishing for someone who has only lived in Fort Mill maybe 26 months now. I’m completely blown away.”
The decision to throw her support behind Beilsmith is based on the reason she got into the race herself, Rumsey said.
“I think we need a different set of eyes (on council) so that’s why I’m backing Beilsmith,”she said.
And the next time the opportunity comes around, Rumsey, who said she filed for last week’s election at the last minute just to give voters another option, plans to run again for town council, she said.
“If you don’t run once, you can’t run again,” Rumsey said said. “Next time, with more time to work with, I’ll have more of a game plan.”
There are approximately 11,889 registered voters in the town of Fort Mill, according to the county elections office. For the April 5, 2016 special election, the one in which Heemsoth won her council seat, there were 10,306 registered voters and 375 of them — 3.64 percent — cast ballots. Heemsoth captured 214 of those votes.
Democracy in action
Turnout for elections in the town of Fort Mill has been historically low. Here’s a look at the number of registered voters compared to the number of ballots cast:
At stake: An at-large town council term and one Ward 3 term
Total registered voters: 11,889 (approx); Votes cast: At-large 1,367; Ward 3: 1,273 (22.2 percent) **
At stake: Special election for an at-large term
Total registered voters: 10,306; Votes cast: 375 (3.64 percent)
At stake: Special election for an at-large term
Total registered voters: 9,337; Votes cast: 408 (4.37 percent)
At stake: Special election for a Ward 1 term
Total registered voters: 8,606; Votes cast: 104 (1.21 percent)
At stake: Election for a Ward 3 term
Total registered voters: 9,277; Votes cast: 321 (3.46 percent)
*Source: York County Voting and Elections
** Voters can cast ballots both in their ward race as well as the at-large race