Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my candidacy for Chairman of the Aiken County Council with the members of the North Augusta 20/20 community. North Augusta is fortunate to have this forum for the discussion of topics of local concern.
I’m a candidate for Chairman of the Aiken County Council because Aiken County needs leadership that will focus on the fundamentals of county government. There are many concerns facing the county’s citizens, ranging from property taxes and the county budget to infrastructure maintenance and economic development, that will benefit from my experience and fiscally conservative approach.
With three Republican candidates filing for this office, the result will be determined in the August 22 primary election. Given that the conventional wisdom predicts a low turnout for this special election, every vote will be magnified in importance. Please vote and let your voice be heard!
Every citizen of North Augusta has an interest in this election. Some who live in Aiken County’s larger cities may think that county government doesn’t apply to them. But the Aiken County Council provides many services impacting those both in and out of the cities. These range from the county court system and the detention center to sewage treatment facilities and economic development initiatives.
Unlike many politicians, I see no sense in promising change for the sake of change. Where it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Aiken County is – overall – in reasonably good shape. But there are areas of concern that County Council needs to address. And to maintain Aiken County’s prosperity, I see four critical, interrelated and mutually supporting themes at work.
First, the Aiken County Council must maintain a fiscally sound, business friendly environment across the county. Taxes must be held in check. Regulations must be sensible and be subject to the rule of law. And a sound, conservative budget requires discipline to reduce debt, hold the line on taxes, and improve county employees’ pay to reduce turnover. County government should be lean and effective, which isn’t the same as stingy and cheap.
One major concern, however, is the growing gap between recurring costs and recurring revenues in the county budget. The reliance on one-time revenues to bridge the gap is risky, and it increases the chance that reserve funds will be relied upon to cover annual expenditures.
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 these groups have a place in Aiken County, and all have interests that must be balanced.
Third, the Aiken County Council must maintain existing public infrastructure and prudently expand it where necessary. Capital Projects Sales Tax dollars must be spent on the highest priority items serving the public interest. And the county should team with cities such as North Augusta where they share mutual concerns. Many road projects require funding from multiple jurisdictions, and coordinating these efforts and keeping communication channels open is important.
And last, but most importantly because it supports everything else, we must keep our focus on public safety. The Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Services, the detention center, and the court system underpin our quality of life. Without law and order, public confidence wilts, investment dies, and communities wither.
But if you’ve read up to this point, you may be asking: Who is Gary Bunker? And why is he the right choice for Chairman of the Aiken County Council?
I served eight years on County Council from 2005 thru 2012 representing District 7 (of which roughly half is in the City of Aiken and half is in unincorporated areas of the county.) During these two terms, I was elected Vice-Chairman three times and served as Chairman of the Administrative Committee for four years. I’ve also served in numerous appointed positions including the Mattie C. Hall Health Care Commission, the County Transportation Committee, and the Economic Development Partnership. I’m currently a member of the Aiken County Board Zoning of Appeals.
When I was on County Council I took an active role in many aspects of county government. I opposed both the last two property tax hikes passed by County Council. I opposed the Fine-Deering TIF proposal because I think economic development initiatives should focus on industrial development. (For the record, though I was off County Council when it was presented in 2013, I was skeptical of the Project Jackson TIF and would have opposed it in its present form.) I helped amend and pass Aiken County’s Land Management Ordinance. I played a key role in amending, balancing and passing the annual budgets.
I never left a phone call or email unanswered, and gladly helped citizens who lived outside of District 7.
After my service on County Council, I was a regular columnist for the Aiken Standard with a focus on local government and politics. (Most of these columns are available at the Aiken Standard website.) This gave me an opportunity to discuss complex matters facing local government in an understandable fashion. And it kept me informed on issues facing Aiken County.
And since I’m running in the Republican primary, note that I’ve been an active member of the Aiken County Republican Party for many years. I was Chairman of the Aiken County Young Republicans in 1995, Executive Committeeman of the Aiken County Republican Party from 1997 to 1999, served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2004, was President of the Aiken Republican Club also in 2004, and chaired every Aiken County Republican Party Convention from 2003 to 2017. The Republican Party isn’t an organization that I go to periodically soliciting votes. Instead, it’s something that I’ve supported for over two decades.
I’m employed by a contractor at the Savannah River Site in the field of project controls and business management. I’ve been active in community organizations and my church. I know how to run a meeting and have a layman's understanding of parliamentary procedure. I have the temperament and credibility to represent Aiken County.
I also understand how the chairman is different from other councilmen. He must preside over meetings. He must 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 Aiken County, including discussions and negotiations related to economic development projects. He must transcend purely parochial concerns and have a vision for the whole county, from North Augusta to Wagener and from Aiken to Beech Island. He must balance the wants and needs of the various interests across Aiken County. In short, the chairman must be a statesman.
I look forward to serving as your next Chairman of the Aiken County Council. I write to you not only a candidate with firm convictions – both my record on council and my columns should be proof of that – but also as a candidate willing and able to listen to diverse opinions.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. As Election Day nears on August 22, I hope I’ll have the opportunity to answer questions and discuss issues in a more comprehensive manner through North Augusta 20/20.