Democrats running for president weren’t the only ones debating Oct. 13.
Fort Mill Town Council members Tom Adams and Guynn Savage faced off at St. John’s United Methodist Church in the town’s only mayoral debate before the Nov. 3 election.
Both Adams and Savage say they are friends with much in common – and their voting records suggest the same.
But while their votes may suggest the two think alike, that is not always the case, particularly when it comes to council’s recent passing of impact fees on new construction to help offset the cost of continued growth in town.
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The fees passed by a 4-3 vote, with Adams in favor and Savage against.
Adams said he sees the fees as a way to provide funding for the town, “without placing that burden on the 13,000 folks that already live here,” by raising taxes.
Savage argued that taxes have remained relatively flat during the past two decades despite unprecedented growth in which the town more than doubled its footprint and population.
“We’ve led everyone to believe that we can continue to provide the same level of service for the same money we were collecting 15, 20 years ago, and that’s not true,” she said.
Savage also perceives an unintended consequence from the fees – deterring large businesses away from the town and into the county or elsewhere.
“I do believe business is critical to balancing out the rooftops in Fort Mill,” she said.
Savage, a Realtor with a communications background, is a Fort Mill native at least three generations deep. Adams, a consultant to truck dealerships, has lived in Fort Mill since 1981. Both say they are running for mayor not for the perceived power of the position – there’s actually little in the town manager-run local government – but to provide the kind of leadership Fort Mill needs.
Adams saw a need for “continuity in leadership” and believes success will be measured by how well the town’s next mayor deals with and manages the community’s growth.
Savage said she wants to bring, “continuity, but change as well,” with communication with constituents at the top of her list.
“I believe that we can do a much better job communicating with our community,” Savage said.
The two are competing to succeed Mayor Danny Funderburk, whose declined to run for a third term.
Patti Mercer, a WRHI radio personality, moderated the debate. In a question about the candidates’ decision-making styles, Mercer told the candidates during the debate that Savage “presents herself as an intuitive decision maker, while Tom looks at the numbers.”
“It just has to make sense,” Savage said, about her decision making process in every aspect of her life.
“It’s got to be good for the town of Fort Mill,” Adams said about his decision making method. “We know what the town limits are, and we seek to do things for those 13,000 people that live within the town limits.”
Another area where the two candidates differ in opinion is the 10-year long battle to build a hospital in Fort Mill. The certificate of need provision in state law that regulates how health care facilities are built has allowed competing companies to keep the issue in the courts whenever a decision favors one or the other since the project was first announced.
Mercer asked if the candidates thought more could have been done by Fort Mill Town Council to shorten the process.
Adams said the responsibility lies with the state.
“As to whether we should have played a bigger role, I don’t think we should have, because it’s not our decision,” he said.
Savage countered, saying council absolutely could have taken a stronger stance and that she does not believe in the CON process.
“I do not see any reason that we have to be aligned with one particular hospital,” Savage said.
Gov. Nikki Haley said last year that she didn’t want DHEC to budget for the CON, encouraging companies to build facilities without being awarded one, but the S.C. Supreme Court said the Legislature would have to change the law before it could be ignored.
But despite their differences in opinion, the two say they have much admiration and respect for each other.
“We have served the town of Fort Mill with the humility that I think you would want of each of us,” Savage said.
Adams echoed the sentiment.
“We are friends, and that will not change regardless of the outcome of this debate or the election,” he said.
Wink Rea, Fort Mill Economic Council vice-chairman, said the two candidates have similar skill sets and many similarities.
“I think either candidate would be a tremendous asset to the town of Fort Mill,” Rea said.
Want to listen?
An archived stream of the debate was posted by WRHI and is available here.