Growth one of key issues in Fort Mill mayoral race

FORT MILL -- Fort Mill's election Tuesday could reflect whether the rapidly changing face of the until-recently textile town has spurred a desire for a change in leadership.

Growth, downtown restoration and traffic control are the major issues in the municipal races, and the most hotly contested campaign is for mayor.

It pits Charlie Powers, mayor of 24 years and former town councilman for six, against Danny Funderburk, a lifelong Fort Millian who found four years as Ward 4 councilman spawned a desire to have more influence over the town's future.

Funderburk, more than a decade Powers' junior, said he concluded Fort Mill needs the communication skills he gleaned through a degree from Winthrop University.

"I developed an appreciation and a respect for the planning process," he said. "I was able to impact things in a positive way. As mayor, you control the agenda. There are additional powers. I wanted the broader range to have an even more positive impact."

Powers has lived in Fort Mill for 50 years and been chairman of its Christmas parade for 25 of them. He stands on his record: completing the northern bypass, advocating commercial business to provide tax dollars for the town's expanding residential base, obtaining a grant that will provide downtown crosswalks and decorative light poles without unsightly wires.

"I don't tell people we can stop growth," Powers said, referring in part to a large number of recent annexations. "We can't. We just have to plan for it. If it builds up outside the town, we have no control."

Funderburk contends the planning process needs to be better organized.

"You have to establish a calendar," he said. "There has to be goals, a timeline and accountability. That is something we have never had."

While some council candidates contend growth should be slowed while infrastructure for schools and other public facilities catch up, Powers points to the infrastructure his administration has provided: acquiring water from Rock Hill rather than building a multimillion dollar plant, acquiring donated land for the fire department and Confederate Park while holding the line on tax increases.

One thing upon which both mayoral candidates agree is that the downtown needs restoration, and the town, business community and residents need to become involved. Both also view comprehensive plan revisions to be presented in November as key to the town's future.

Funderburk points out he, his parents, his children and his grandchildren have grown up or will grow up in Fort Mill. He was Fort Mill Citizen of the Year in 2006.

Powers cites decades of dedication to Fort Mill and its people and a commitment that has not flagged. He was Fort Mill Citizen of the Year in 1981.

"I think what I offer is a fresh outlook," Funderburk said.

"I'll just continue to love Fort Mill and cooperate to do what's best for the citizens," Powers said.

In some ways, the council races mirror the mayoral one: traditional old guard vs. new blood:

Ward 4, (seat being vacated by Funderburk):

• Tom Adams, a Fort Mill resident more than a decade, advocates letting infrastructure catch up with growth, balancing residential and commercial growth, downtown renovation

• Charlie Boyette, former council member of 20 years, wants more ballfields, more cooperation with the County Council, tougher enforcement of building codes

Ward 2:

• Grady Ervin, incumbent of 25 years, supports revitalization of the downtown, adhering to development agreements that meet infrastructure needs, close monitoring of business licenses and property taxes

• Ronald Helms, volunteer firefighter and longtime resident, wants business owners to improve the downtown, more communication among government agencies, balance between commercial and residential growth

At-large Seat 2

• Ken Starnes, incumbent, wants responsible growth and economic development in the revised comprehensive plan, drawing companies that will support the tax base, adequate infrastructure and recreation facilities

• Dean Youhanic, a seven-year resident, supports a revitalized, pedestrian-friendly downtown that preserves character, managing growth to provide infrastructure and community, business, intergovernmental cooperation

• Bryan Smith, a 15-year resident, supports drawing business large and small, preserving the past and planning for the future and more parks.