Growth & Development

Lexington County Runoff Pits Anti-Tax Activist Against Incumbent

By Al Dozier
Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is there a clean-house movement in Lexington?

Voters ousted incumbent Lexington County Councilman Frank Townsend in the June primary. Longtime County Council member Bill Banning faces a runoff June 24. 
Randy Halfacre, mayor of the Town of Lexington since 2004 and a councilman for 10 years prior to that, lost his job in November to Town Councilman Steve MacDougall.
Chapin Mayor Stan Shealy, who had held the post for 32 years, was also defeated in November by businessman Skip Wilson.
Some say it’s an anti-tax fervor.

A proposed penny sales tax is a dominant issue in Lexington. Ned Tolar, Banning’s runoff challenger, raised the issue in his campaign. On his website, Tolar states that the proposal to raise the sales tax to 8 percent would cost a family of four about $555 annually, and “That’s a lot of money.”

Tolar has also complained about the county paying $450,000 to Alliance Consulting Engineers to draw up a project list for the sales tax.

The proposed tax, designed to fund infrastructure projects throughout Lexington County at a cost of $290 million over eight years, is set to go before voters Nov. 4.
While the sales tax is a major issue, Tolar says it goes beyond that. Voters are not happy with the status quo, he says.

Tolar says he also wants to bring more transparency to a council that is constantly meeting behind closed doors in executive session.

Tolar says he fully expects to win the June 24 primary, especially since he received an endorsement from Billy Oswald, the third candidate in the contest. Banning led with 38 percent of the vote, Tolar was close behind with 32 percent, and Oswald followed with 30 percent.
But Banning isn’t sweating the challenge.

When it comes to anti-tax sentiment, Banning says he is an advocate for a citizen vote on the tax proposal, not for the tax itself. It will be up to voters to determine if the county needs the tax to fund the proposed projects.

He also points out that there are those who favor the tax, and he’s heard from them. They want the improvements the tax would make to Lexington’s road problems.

Banning says he is campaigning hard with a mission of “getting my message out.”

His asset to the community is economic development, he says, and he believes he can take credit for the steps already taken to bring in major new businesses, such as retailer Amazon and Nephron Pharmaceuticals.

While some incumbents are losing races, Lexington County Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat says he does not see a throw-the-rascals-out trend. Occasionally, some politicians lose their seats locally just as they do nationally, he says. And taxes will always be an issue because “nobody likes taxes.”

But Jeffcoat says you can still find voter loyalty to incumbents, such as Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson and S.C. Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia, who have held their offices for years.

House District 96 incumbent Kit Spires easily defeated GOP challenger Perry Finch, earning 70 percent of the vote.

Jeffcoat says a candidate’s success, or failure, is usually built on his relationship with his constituency.

In other words, it’s politics as usual.

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