John Marks – email@example.com
LAKE WYLIE —
Several public servants, citizens and business leaders hoping to see an improved York County in 2011 are taking their show on the road. Specifically, about an hour or so down I-77.
Feb. 15 marks York County Day in Columbia, an annual gathering of lawmakers and community activists that for more than two decades running puts local issues in front of state decision-makers.
“Forums such as York County Day are important opportunities for both constituents and legislators,” said S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope, local businessman and first-term state legislator. “It gives the constituents a unique opportunity to voice concerns in an open forum and it helps the legislators maintain a connection with the pulse of the district.”
Expected to participate are speakers Gov. Nikki Haley, Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt, state research and statistics director Bobby Bowers and Darrell Scott with the state chamber of commerce. Also included are members of the York County Legislative Delegation, which currently includes House Reps. Pope, Ralph Norman, Greg Delleney, John King, Deborah Long, Dennis Moss and Gary Simrill, along with Sens. Harvey Peeler, Wes Hayes, Creighton Coleman and the seat recently vacated by Mick Mulvaney.
Rob Youngblood, president of York County Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the combination of York County’s economic role within its state coupled with its proximity to and benefit from Charlotte makes the county “unique compared to other areas of South Carolina.” York County Day, he said, is a “prime opportunity” to make such a case.
“We want to show that, while we benefit from our proximity to Charlotte, we are an important part of and contributor to the state,” Youngblood said. “We also want to show the connection of York County having a strong economy and quality of life to advancing the state and its economic and global competitiveness in the future.”
Several state issues impact York County, but when asked to name them, many start at the same place.
“Tax reform should be the top concern,” said Bruce Henderson, Lake Wylie’s representative to York County Council. “The South Carolina legislature needs to make some bold moves in this area that would create conditions to instigate a state economic recovery.”
Youngblood said chamber members from Lake Wylie, Clover and York will join countywide members to stress tax reform not only at York County Day, but throughout the legislative session.
“All four chambers support changes to the state’s tax system that will provide reform toward establishing a pro-business tax structure and a plan for addressing the business cost shifts that have resulted from Act 388,” Youngblood said.
Other main issues are education funding, both higher learning and local school districts, and support of the state Department of Commerce in creating and maintaining economic development, Youngblood said. Transportation infrastructure, Henderson added, must also be addressed.
“Roads and bridges have got to be revisited,” he said. “Whatever it takes to get our roads and bridges up to standard must be focused on.”
Henderson wants a “lockbox on our road funds” and believes improved avenues of transportation will help “cause the pistons of our economic engine to make noise.” He also wants to ensure any hospitality funds collected in York County stay in York County, since “we are much more qualified to allocate and direct this money to its rightful places.”
Henderson believes legislators can “define themselves” by their actions this year.
“When they reduce spending to the point of hurting, when they realize there’s pain before we gain, then and only then will South Carolina be on the way to recovery,” he said.
As state legislators began returning to Columbia last month, many did so recognizing the upcoming state budget process and projected shortfalls will impact every action they take this year. Many also told their constituents to keep themselves informed not only as the session began, but all during the legislative season.
“In essence a picture is worth a thousand words and me explaining things can never replace the people actually witnessing the process,” Pope said of events like York County Day. “Equally important is constituents reaching out to their legislators on a regular basis.”
While chambers of commerce and elected officials can work toward impacting York County, Youngblood noted that business owners themselves need to be active, too.
“Business voices need to be heard and this event offers the perfect opportunity for the county business community to show a unified front on common issues, while also having the opportunity to discuss other industry-specific issues with our legislative delegation and other legislative officials,” he said.
Pope agreed, saying he hopes to hear regularly from his constituents in his new role, rather than being bombarded with opinion once a decision already is made.
“It helps me greatly to be contacted about issues early in the process,” he said. “Often times, it is difficult to take corrective action if the concern is voiced once the train has left the station.”