Proven Leadership for Aiken County
Aiken County Council Chairman
About Gary Bunker
Gary Bunker served on the Aiken County Council for two terms from 2005 through 2012. During his time on council, he was three times elected Vice-Chairman by his peers and was Chairman of the Administrative Committee for four years.
Gary has been appointed to several committees. He served on the Mattie C. Hall Healthcare Commission (appointed by Councilman Rick Osbon) from 1997 through 2002, and served as chairman during the last year. He was on the Aiken County Board of Appeals (appointed by Osbon) in 2003 and the Aiken County Transportation Committee (appointed by Sen. Greg Ryberg) in 2004.
After his service on County Council, Gary served on the Board of the Economic Development Partnership (appointed by Councilman Scott Singer) from 2013 through 2014 and is currently serving a second stint on the Board of Appeals (appointed by Councilwoman Camille Furgiuele) from 2015 to the present.
Gary also has been active in the Aiken County Republican Party. He was president of the Aiken Republican Club in 2004, Chairman of the Aiken County Young Republicans in 1995, Executive Committeeman of the Aiken County Republican Party from 1997 to 1999, and chaired every Aiken County Republican Party Convention between 2003 and 2017. He's held precinct level positions (variously precinct president and precinct committeeman) in Hollow Creek 53, Gem Lakes 60, and Gem Lakes 77 over the last 20 years. He was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2004.
Gary wrote a regular column for the Aiken Standard from early 2013 through January 2017. He has been a member of the Gem Lakes Recreation Board, the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness Communications Committee, the Aiken Sertoma Club, Helping Hands, and the Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken.
Gary has lived in Aiken since 1993 and has worked continuously for several contractors at the Savannah River Site in project controls and business management. He's a Certified Cost Consultant (AACE International), a Project Management Professional (Project Management Institute) and is involved in his local professional associations. He's a member of New Covenant Presbyterian Church.
Gary and his wife, Michele, live in Aiken with their children, Charles Park and Savannah Grace. Their eldest daughter, Shelbey Elisabeth, is a registered nurse in Jacksonville, Florida.
Why I'm Running
My candidacy is based on one crucial assumption: that Ronnie Young, the current Council Chairman, will be successful in his race to succeed Chris Corley in representing South Carolina House District 84. This may seem like a very big assumption. But in this case, it appears that the man and the district have met. Ronnie, under whom I served during my two terms on County Council, will be a formidable candidate and an outstanding state representative.
And for Aiken County, this will be a good move: we badly need someone in the Aiken County legislative delegation with an intimate knowledge of local government and its needs in Columbia. For home rule to work, we need folks in the General Assembly who are sympathetic to our state’s cities and counties.
I could easily pick up on a popular theme and claim that my goal is to “Make Aiken County Great Again!” But overall Aiken County is in good shape. Our county government continues to weather the storm with balanced budgets and no property tax hikes.
Unlike many politicians, I see no sense in promising revolutionary changes. Where it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Instead, my goal is to focus on the fundamentals of county government and prune and hedge as needed. Continuity and change go hand in hand. We will think outside the box when necessary, but always making sure we build on firm foundations.
And to maintain Aiken County’s prosperity, I see four key interrelated - and mutually supporting - themes at work.
First, the Aiken County Council must maintain a fiscally conservative, business friendly environment across the county. Taxes must be held in check. Regulations must be sensible and be subject to the rule of law. They must be neither onerous nor cost more than they’re worth. And a sound, conservative budget requires discipline to reduce debt, hold the line on taxes, and improve county employees’ pay. County government should be lean and effective, which isn’t the same as stingy and cheap.
Second, the Aiken County Council must continue to pursue industrial growth opportunities with good paying jobs to increase prosperity and widen the tax base. Our local economy is diverse, with income derived from the Savannah River Site, private industry, the horse community, agriculture, retirees relocating here, and innumerable and varied service sector jobs. Like a giant mosaic, all of these groups have a place in Aiken County, and all have interests that must be balanced. We should cooperate with other jurisdictions to encourage job growth. And with a pro-industrial administration taking office in Washington, DC, we should be on the lookout for every opportunity to improve our local economy.
Third, the Aiken County Council must maintain existing public infrastructure and prudently expand it where either current usage or competent forecasts dictate improvements. Capital Projects Sales Tax dollars must be spent on only the highest priority items serving the public interest. And the county should team with the cities where they share mutual concerns. For example, improvements along Whiskey Road and the Whiskey-Powderhouse Connector Road. And these examples can be multiplied across the county.
And last, but most importantly because it supports everything else we do, we must keep our focus on public safety. The Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Services are two great props underlying our quality of life. Without law and order, public confidence wilts and communities wither. Investment dies when public safety passes the tipping point into anarchy.
But having laid out these broad courses of action, the obvious question is whether I'm the right choice to succeed Ronnie Young as County Council Chairman. I have both the conservative values and experience required. I've served eight years on council, three as vice chairman, and served on a variety of boards and commissions. I’ve been active in both community organizations and the Republican Party. I’ve researched and written on innumerable local topics in my newspaper and internet columns. I know how to run a meeting and have a layman's understanding of parliamentary procedure. I also have the temperament and credibility to represent county government.
But there's something else I understand about the role of chairman. The chairman is different from other councilmen. He must preside over the meetings. While his vote is his own, he must temper his comments to allow the other eight members of council to express their views, debate the issues, and make their motions. The chairman must speak for the full council, even in cases when he disagrees with the majority. The chairman must ensure that council retains the initiative on policy development.
And the chairman must represent the county on a variety of matters, including discussions and negotiations related to economic development projects. He must have a vision for the whole county, from North Augusta to Wagener and from Aiken to Beech Island. The chairman must transcend purely parochial concerns.
The Chairman of the Aiken County Council must listen to and balance all of the various interests in the county. It’s not just about being first among equals among council’s nine members. No, he must also deal with the other countywide elected officials and the county’s unelected staff. He must deal with the legislative delegation, and with our Congressional representatives. He must work with mayors and school boards. He must meet with business interests and citizens groups. The chairman must listen at least twice as much as he talks.
In short, the chairman needs to be a statesman. For eight years on the Aiken County Council, I watched and listened and learned from a true mentor. It was time and training well spent.
Firm convictions and prudently picking battles go hand in hand in local government. And I’ve learned, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, that there’s no limit on what you can accomplish if you let the other fellow take the credit. Indeed, in many cases the good ideas come from you – the public – and not from staff, consultants, or your elected officials. But an ability to judge between competing proposals is very, very important.
I look forward to serving as your next Chairman of the Aiken County Council. I stand before you as not only a conservative Republican with my own firm convictions – and my columns should be proof of that – but also as a candidate willing and able to listen to diverse opinions.
Together we will build on a solid foundation.
We will hold the line on property taxes and seek continued millage rate rollbacks.
We will work to reduce debt.
We will attract industrial investments and SRS missions along with the good paying jobs they provide.
We will wisely maintain existing infrastructure and prudently expand it where necessary.
And we will support public safety and emergency services.
Aiken County is the size of Rhode Island. I need not only your votes, but your active support to win this election. Can I count on your help?
Leadership for Aiken County
Make Public Safety the Top Priority
Given budgetary resources, the needs of the Sheriff’s Office, the Detention Center, and the Emergency Medical Services must be attended to first.
Budget Prudently and Maximize Return on Investment
Unlike Congress, the Aiken County Council must pass a balanced budget every year. Therefore, Council must achieve the greatest “bang for the buck” out of every tax dollar it spends. The top three budgetary priorities are to increase compensation for County employees, build the county’s fund balance and cash reserves, and work off the accumulated debt burden. Creative, outside-the-box thinking and a questioning attitude are required. At a minimum, every new spending program must be met with reductions elsewhere in the budget. The ability to say “no” to new spending initiatives is crucial.
Create a Healthy Business Environment to Encourage Economic Investment and Job Creation
Aiken County must build a healthy business environment to encourage additional investment and job creation. This includes low taxes, a reasonable regulatory regime, and a cooperative attitude on the part of Council and County staff towards business development. Fee-in-lieu of taxes incentives for manufacturing should be aggressively pursued. In addition, steps should be taken to develop a high technology corridor leveraging opportunities at the Savannah River Site and Fort Gordon. Aiken County is economically diverse, with income flowing in from private industry, the Savannah River Site, the equestrian community, agriculture, and the host of retirees calling Aiken home. The competing needs of these interests must be balanced, and opportunities for the young created.
Keep Taxes Low by Growing Revenues
Many sections of Aiken County aren’t wealthy, and tax increases can be devastating. The Aiken County Council should base its annual budgets on the existing property tax millage rate and the one-cent Capital Projects Sales Tax (CPST). A healthy economy will produce growing revenues without the need to adjust rates upward. And incentives should be made available to repurpose abandoned industrial plants and rehabilitation of historic properties to broaden the property tax base.
Maintain and Expand Public Infrastructure
The judicious use of CPST funds to maintain existing public infrastructure (roads, parks, facilities) is a must to maintain a high quality of life. The expansion or creation of new infrastructure should be pursued as needed, but only after the maintenance needs of existing infrastructure is met. Existing facilities should be repurposed whenever possible. For new projects, both cooperation with impacted municipalities and the pursuit of grants, low interest financing, and new market tax credits (where applicable) are key. Road work must focus on the most congested areas, not only for convenience but also to enhance economic development. And Aiken County should be attentive to the needs of the various fire, water and sewer districts.
Debt is only allowed in certain limited cases for capital projects. General obligation debt should be kept well below the statutory maximum allowed. The creation of this “buffer” is the debt version of a rainy-day fund – it must be kept available until needed. Existing debt should be worked off as soon as possible, and no new debt issued until as much of the existing debt is liquidated. Where possible, debt should be paid off with specific revenues, such as user fees for the Public Service Authority upgrade and expansion project.
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