Candidates differ on how city should grow

CLOVER -- How to reduce water costs, draw business and control growth were at the heart of questions Monday night at a forum for the Clover mayoral candidates.

About 45 residents gathered at school district office for the forum sponsored by the Greater Clover Chamber of Commerce. For about 90 minutes, the two men running for the seat -- former Mayor Donnie Grice and current Mayor Donnie Burris -- answered 16 pre-selected questions about community development, town services and budget.

Grice emphasized the need to develop the downtown to attract more profitable growth to the area, while Burris focused on the need for industrial growth.

"When you got retail, it draws the bigger stuff with it," Grice said. "If you got a good base, the others will follow."

He suggested getting grants to help ease the cost of starting a business downtown, Grice said. Many people trying to start in the downtown incur a lot of expense because of the old buildings, he said.

He also suggested bringing rail into West Gate Industrial Park to attract more business.

While the downtown is important, industrial growth is what's going to help the town thrive, Burris said.

"We can't concentrate all our efforts on industrial and commercial, but a good amount of our efforts need to be focused there," Burris said. The downtown will grow as more business comes to town, he said, pointing to Clover's history with mills.

"When those plants and mills were thriving, that downtown area was also thriving," he said.

As mayor, Burris said he worked hard to get North Safety Products annexed into town and would continue to look for similar opportunities if re-elected.

The candidates agreed that the cost of water is high, but necessary. Buying from Gastonia, N.C., isn't ideal, they said, but it's better than what the town had before.

"Our wells were pumping mud," Grice said. "Our sewer system was overflowing on a heavy rain."

Burris said the town should make sure that the town's water and sewer systems are kept in good shape.

The council recently used a $5.9 million revenue bond to pay off existing water and sewer debt. They got a loan to repair old lift stations and to relocate lines to make road improvements.

When asked about how fiscally responsible they would be in office, Burris defended his actions earlier this year to increase taxes, saying although he opposed it initially. In the long run, he said, he decided it was best.

"Sometimes as an elected official, you have to make tough choices," he said.

Grice said when he was mayor he worked hard to keep expenses down and to ensure the budget was balanced.

The two candidates also talked about the need to control residential growth to ensure the quality of schools and community life. They agreed that the town should strive to attract higher-end developments.