Greenville County Council candidates answer our questions

The November 3, 2020 election has five contested Greenville County Council districts.  In District 20 Republican primary winner Steve Shaw faces Democrat Farris Steele Johnson.  In District 22 Republican primary winner Stan Tzouvelakis faces Democrat Samantha Wallace.  In District 24 Republican incumbent Liz Seman faces Democrat Amanda McDougald Scott. In District 25 Democrat incumbent Ennis Fant faces Republican Ben Carper.  In District 27 Republican incumbent Butch Kirven faces Democrat Wil Morin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a 501c3 non-profit we do not endorse candidates, we do this only to inform voters.

Our Questions:

  1. Greenville County has not had line items in the biennial budget for Swamp Rabbit Trail expansion. (The City of Greenville has prior to COVID-19 budgeted $1 MM a year for Greenway Trails, and their latest budget eliminates the $1MM for FY20-21 but suggests it continue for the next four fiscal years thereafter.)  Will you support a budget of $1MM to $2MM a year for trail expansion projects including the Orange Line from Hampton Station to New Washington Heights, The expansion north to Slater- Marietta, and County portions of trail from CU-ICAR to Mauldin, Simpsonville and Fountain Inn.
  2. In 2013-14 Bike Walk Greenville help sponsor the Greenville County Safe Routes to School Recreation and Work Plan. 100 biking and walking projects from that plan were included in the 2014 penny sales tax referendum that was handily defeated.  Six years later the needs identified in this plan are unfunded, or if funded by the GPATS long term transportation plan they are 20 or more years from construction.  As a County Council member how can this funding shortfall be solved?
  3. County Land Development ordinances require sidewalks in new subdivisions, but fail to require private funding for sidewalks on existing roads that may easily connect to a school or business destination (say within ½ mile of the subdivision). How can funding such needed sidewalk connectivity be addressed by County Council?

District 20 Answers:

Steve Shaw
Farris Steele Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers from Steve Shaw received on June 5, 2020 for our primary election post:

  1. Having my workplace right on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, I daily see the benefit of a safe and enjoyable walk or bike to the post office, stores, restaurants and other businesses. I also see the economic benefits it has brought. Safe walking corridors are an amenity that homeowners seek out and pay a premium for, and I will vigorously use my education, skills, and experience as a land use lawyer with a Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning to implement more walking corridors. However, as a small business owner and solo attorney who works for many small businesses, I also know the devastation that the Covid-19 government shut-downs have wreaked. As disappointing as it is, I cannot see asking the taxpayer to support $1MM a year to further develop our trail system. Walk-Bike trails are a strong attraction, but we must put all efforts immediately into relief to help the taxpayers with core government functions. Unfortunately, that will dim the near-future for funding anywhere close to this goal. As we get our legs economically after this crisis, I believe that the County needs to support expanding the trails. However, I will never be for an increase in taxes or fees but will look for ways to work within the existing general budget. I not only believe, I have seen with my own eyes that walkable corridors promote well-being, family recreation opportunity, connectivity, and a partial solution to road traffic. Solving transportation problems is a core government function, so trails fit in that way.
  2. I agree with the need for safe routes to work and school that don’t involve getting into an automobile and further congesting our roads. Again, having my workplace right on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, I daily see the benefit of a safe and enjoyable walk or bike to the post office, stores, restaurants and other businesses and view the trail as a key amenity. That being said, I do not support higher taxes or new fees toward that end. I will look for ways to reassign current spending from outdated or bloated county works, use public lands, partner with existing utilities (corridors over pipes, on rail beds, or under high tension lines), or explore conservation easements with private landowners. Council can provide the leadership, organization, expertise, support, and manpower/machines to support community groups like Bike Walk Greenville to achieve the goals of the GCSRSRWP, and I would be eager to begin that support right away.
  3. While walking the streets and roads in District 20 for my campaign, I realized that walking here is very dangerous. Many of the roads have absolutely no walking room at all. Even the roads that have some room have speeding cars going by. Most of the district is non-walkable for all intents and purposes. As I mentioned before, my philosophy is that lessening traffic and providing transportation is a core government function. Following, I am in favor of ordinances that, as a condition of medium to large developments, require the developer to provide walkable connectivity from the new development, next to existing roads, to existing (or proposed) walkable corridors.

Answers from Farris Johnson received on September 15, 2020:

  1. Absolutely. Additionally, I would like to see the trail expanded further east into the county to connect the Taylors area to the rest of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. I support the financing of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, so long as citizen input is gathered at every step of the process & we ensure that expansion does not further displace families in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. However, our focus on biking and transit safety shouldn’t simply be narrowed to the Swamp Rabbit Trail and the communities that enjoy proximity to that greenway. Instead, County Council should also commit to investing in roads throughout the county that provide safe lanes to bikers and walking paths for pedestrians.
  2. Even in the fall out of COVID-19, there is money in the Greenville County budget that can and should be reallocated to these initiatives. For example, Greenville County Sheriff’s Office receives 47 million from County Council. That’s roughly 25% of the General Fund. A more walkable and bike friendly county is not only a concern for public transit, public health, and the environment, but also it is an issue of public safety. Biking accidents are largely preventable with proper lanes. Pedestrian deaths are certainly preventable deaths. Because these are public safety issues, it makes sense to divest some portion of the current Sheriff’s Office budget in order to proactively invest in infrastructure that keeps our neighbors safe. We can’t wait 20 years for these plans. There is no question that Greenville will continue growing, the only question is whether or not we will have smart, sustainable, and safe growth. Fully funding the Greenville County Safe Routes to School Recreation and Work Plan is one step towards a better Greenville.
  3. As I stated above, County Council has the money. Anyone who says they don’t simply lacks the imagination or political will to see otherwise. One way to fund this project is to reallocate money within the existing budget. Creating a more pedestrian and bike friendly county is an issue of public safety. As such, it is completely appropriate to invest funds allocated for public safety (ex: the Sheriff’s budget) to fund these projects. Public funds should be used to create public goods that improve our everyday lives. Another way to fund this & ensure the cost isn’t passed along to taxpayers, would be to create reasonable Impact Fees for businesses and developments. These fees factor in the impact that developments will have on our communities and make proactive upgrades (like sidewalks!) just a cost of doing business in Greenville County

District 22 Answers:

Samantha Wallace
Stan Tzouvelekas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers from Samantha Wallace received on September 1, 2020:

  1. I am a long time advocate for trails and greenways, and the expansion of them in our
    community. During my time as publisher of Edible Upcountry, it was a privilege to work
    closely with Greenville Rec in producing The Carrot , a food guide to the Swamp Rabbit
    Trail. I do support a budget line item and I would like to see it meet or exceed what the
    City of Greenville commits on an annual basis. The Swamp Rabbit Trail has provided a
    well-documented, tangible return to our community–economic development,
    community vitalization and health impact–as well as more intangible benefits of
    improving our quality of life, sense of community connectedness and pride of place. I will
    support both leveraging county dollars, as well as smart community partnerships, to
    ensure the trail continues it’s strategic expansion and provides increasing benefit to the
    community.
  2. The recently adopted Comprehensive Plan clearly illuminated the priority among
    Greenville County residents of increasing safe, multi-model transportation options. Over
    73% of county citizens polled indicated that the “county needs to expand network of
    sidewalks, bicycle paths and trails” (pg. 66, Plan Greenville County Comprehensive Plan ).
    There are many recommendations from the comp plan that will elevate the visibility and
    priority of many of these original projects, if the recommendations are implemented . It
    will take significant political will from County Council members to enforce and follow
    the plan. This is something I’m prepared to do. I will fight for county budget dollars in
    support of this critical priority, as well as for leveraging innovative, alternative funding
    streams such as grants and partnerships. Additionally, it will take smart, effective
    interjurisdictional collaboration between the county and its municipal, state and federal
    partners–one of the pillars of my campaign.
  3. As a first time County Council candidate, I have much to learn about the various funding
    tools in the county tool kit. I do understand that the next major component of planning
    smartly for our growth is the development of a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
    The UDO will streamline and rationalize the development process further to ensure
    these kinds of infrastructure considerations align with the longer-range plan for the
    county and will require developers to more responsibly invest in our community.

Answers from Stan Tzouvelekas received on September 30, 2020:

  1. The Swamp Rabbit Trail is vital to Greenville and has been and will continue to be a huge asset to our Community. It separates Greenville and the surrounding communities from other communities in that it connects us all in many ways as in walking, biking and has allowed small businesses to be started which helps our local economy.  Having said the above I would support a line item for the Swam Rabbit Trial in our budget however if I am elected to Greenville County Council I am not prepared today to commit to an amount especially in light of the economic changes that will potentially impact our budget this year due to Corona. I am pro Swamp Rabbit I do want the interconnectivity that it provides to all the surrounding communities I just need time to evaluate how the budget will be impacted in its totality prior to making the financial dollar commitment. While your request is for 1 to 2 million I would suggest a detailed plan be completed so that we can put the projects out to bid with local contractors  which may be more cost effective allowing Greenville County to do more with less. Doing so would lead to potentially lowering the cost and free up more budget space for different things such as trails, sidewalks and bike lanes.
  2. Through reviewing the existing budget to see where we can support the Greenville County Safe Routes. When new developments are developed we need to make sure there are funds Private/public to cover the agreed upon construction. Also we need a detailed plan outlined and put in a bidding process to our local contractors so we can get projects like this funded within the budget being more cost effective.
  3. This reason is why we have to get it right from the beginning working with developers so they can include some of those cost in their planning working with our local governing officials with a smart plan that works for all. When we construct new communities and schools the side walks need to be part of the community plan so getting it right in the beginning is imperative to our future. One way to get new sidewalks to the existing communities is to come up with a short/med/long term plan and use the budget we have that grows annually due to the growth of our community and stage the work needed over a period of time.

District 24 Answers:

Liz Seman
Amanda McDougald Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers from Liz Seman received on September 24, 2020:

  1. I have been a big proponent of the Swamp Rabbit Trail since it’s inception.  While I would certainly support $1M to $2M annually, the county currently has $4.7M budgeted for trail maintenance and expansion.  In fact, repaving of the trail will start the end of September. The ability to improve the mobility and connectivity of our community is paramount to our ability to manage the growth that we know is coming.  Investment in infrastructure support must include everything from roads, trails and bike lanes to water and sewer.  In addition, the county’s most recent Comprehensive Plan has identified the need to address our transportation systems as well as reduce sprawl and lessen the impact on our natural resources and infrastructure.  Support for trail expansion certainly helps us meet that goal.
  2. In the GPATS Horizion2040 Long-Range Transportation Plan, the policy committee adopted the recommendation to allocate 10% of the GPATS Guideshare per year the fund major bicycle and pedestrian projects.  This amounts to $1.8M per year across the GPATS region.  The Green Line Extension from CU-ICAR into Mauldin and the Orange Line Extension between Taylors Mill and downtown Greer have already been added into the Transportation Improvement Program.  While that funding source is a longer-term solution, more immediate funding needs to be secured.  The most viable option would be to convene strategic partners, with Bike Walk Greenville as the lead, to discuss funding options.  One partner we certainly need at the table is SCDOT as well as the various municipalities, as many of the projects in the plan are on state roads and within municipal boundaries.
  3. Since the adoption of the 2010 Comprehensive Plan, County Council has recognized the need to review our zoning and land development regulations to address a variety of issues and inconsistencies.  The new 2020 Comprehensive Plan talks extensively about livability and quality of life.  In addition, we know there is high demand for increased and improved active transportation options such as walking and cycling.  The most effective way for County Council to address these issues is through the new Unified Development Ordinance.  As this new ordinance is being developed, I hope that Bike Walk Greenville will be an active participant in the process.

Answers from Amanda McDougald Scott received September 30, 2020:

  1. Yes. Several of the locations you mention are in my District, and I believe that all members of our Greenville County Community should have enjoyable access to one of Greenville’s best attractions. As COVID-19 sequestered us to our homes, one of the few places that we could enjoy and use to promote public health was our outdoor space.  We often take my son Polk to Cleveland Park.  Some days, we ride bikes together along the Swamp Rabbit Trail. We get to see other parents and children who are enjoying the parks and recreation that Greenville County provides.  But as we walk or bike along the trail, our family also sees areas of our County that get more attention than others.  Our County government is allowing some areas along the Swamp Rabbit Trail to receive less attention than others. Investing in expansion of our public parks and trails is an equitable way to provide recreation for all of our neighbors, as well as to provide opportunities for public health improvement. If our District 24 families in New Washington Heights, Mauldin, and iCar cannot access the Swamp Rabbit Trail safely and easily, their opportunities for both are limited. It is well documented that physical activity staves off many chronic diseases. By improving access to the Trail in all parts of Greenville County, we are not just expanding opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, we are also helping our community stay healthier and saving our health systems’ capital. 

    The federally mandated 2019 Community Health Needs Assessments completed by both of our major health systems identified obesity as a major concern in Greenville County. The St. Francis CHNA found that “64.5% of those in Greenville County are either overweight or obese, meaning only 1 in 3 are living at a healthy weight. In addition, South Carolina ranks the 10th worst state in the nation.” St. Francis also determined that “the availability of recreational facilities can influence individuals’ and communities’ choices to engage in physical activity,” and that “proximity to places with recreational opportunities is associated with higher physical activity levels, which in turn is associated with lower rates of adverse health outcomes associated with poor diet, lack of physical activity, and obesity.”  

    Prisma Health’s CHNA found that “South Carolina’s top health concerns – diabetes and adult obesity – largely mirrors the state’s outcomes.”  SC DHEC reports that “the economic cost of obesity in South Carolina is estimated to be $8.5 billion per year and growing. The main risk factors for obesity and other chronic conditions include poor nutrition and lack of physical activity.”

    We must ensure that all members of our community have proximity to the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Public health is an economic imperative.

  2. I have spent the past nine months talking to and listening to my neighbors in District 24. One of their top concerns is improving the safety in their neighborhoods, including how their children will walk to school. Improving our access to biking and walking will not only improve public health and safety, it will also improve our environment. The funding shortfall could be rectified through a reintroduction of the penny tax, but given the resistance to this proposal, I would also like to identify opportunities to fund this initiative through reallocations in the County budget and through institutional, private sector, and philanthropic funding. 

  3. The lack of sidewalk access and quality/maintenance limit pedestrian mobility, as well as the mobility by our neighbors that use wheelchairs and other assistive devices. I have personally spent the past nine months walking the campaign trail throughout District 24, and have noticed marked differences in the state of, access to, and presence of sidewalks. There are more sidewalks within the City of Greenville than the rest of District 24. As noted in the question, this not only affects access to businesses and schools, but also to bus stops, polling places, and other essential services. Greenville County Council can begin improving our infrastructure and environment by implementing the Greenville County Comprehensive Plan for improved walkability and transportation access. I am a researcher by trade and training, so I also want to employ further data-based studies to inform our solutions.

 

District 25 Answers:

Ben Carper
Ennis Fant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answer from Ben Carper received on September 30, 2020:

I like bike riding, as I also like my motorcycles and automobiles. I am also a runner and have run thousands of miles on Greenville County sidewalks.

I do not think looking from the outside in right now, as I am not elected, that we should be adding infrastructure until we maintain the infrastructure we already have. Everything added today, will need to be maintained tomorrow.

I am certain there are budgetary items I am not privy to at present, but everything we build today will need to be maintained tomorrow.

Ennis Fant has not responded to our repeated requests.

District 27 Answers:

Butch Kirven
Will Morin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers from Butch Kirven received on September 17, 2020:

  1. First, it is important to note that without Greenville County there would be no Swamp Rabbit Trail. In 1999, the County purchased two old railroads stretching over about 15 miles from north of Travelers Rest to Greenville and from Greenville to Verdae and CU-ICAR.  Those railroads now form the main trunk of today’s Swamp Rabbit Trail.When I became chairman of Greenville County Council in 2005, I also became chairman of GCEDC, the non-profit public corporation that technically owned the railroads.  In order to create the Trail we first had to navigate through law suits, regulations, and a lengthy approval process by the federal Surface Transportation Board in order to convert what were legally “active railroads” into a recreation trail through the “Rails-to-Trails” rail banking program.  At several decisive points the project could have it could have collapsed, but we held it together and persevered so that everyone could benefit.Our goals have not changed – to build the Swamp Rabbit Trail into a countywide and regionally connected network of trails.  It is an expensive undertaking with a long way to go, but I will always advocate for Trail funds wherever they can be found in order to match ends with means.  Meanwhile, we can all be right proud of what has been accomplished – something that many other communities are envious of – and something solid to build on now and in the future.
  2. I love the trails system and support extending and maintaining trails whenever and wherever possible. I used the Safe Routes to School program in my District by creating a sidewalk along Stokes Road from Hillcrest Middle School to Hwy 14 in Simpsonville. It is a very popular sidewalk used by many people. Unfortunately, Safe Routes was discontinued in 2016.“Safe Routes to School” (SRTS) was a federal program funded in the MAP-21 Transportation legislation in 2012.  It was not renewed in 2016 when the FAST Act Transportation legislation was adopted. SRTS priorities were folded into the Transportation Alternatives (TA) program with GPATS oversight. TA funds are currently fully committed. However, bike and pedestrian facilities have been incorporated into all of GPATS’s road improvements and Greenways projects going forward. There is a clear need for more projects of this type, and hopefully federal funds will be added to the next federal Transportation Act.
  3. The County established clear priorities through neighborhood plans (Area Plans), Greenways Plan (Greenville County Recreation Dept) and “Plan Greenville County” (the Countywide Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2019.  Implementation strategies will be contained in the Unified Development Ordinance now being crafted in the form of development requirements and the future Mobility and Thoroughfare Plan which will include recommendations on sidewalks and small trail connections. I am excited about that and fully support their inclusion in the UDO.Using road funds to maintain the Trail may seem like a good idea, but the Road Fund is setup for roads and not trails. Trails are recreation assets and they are funded through recreation tax millage and Accommodations Tax revenue.  However, the County did designate all of the proceeds from the sale of the downtown River Street property, about $4.5 million, for trails including finishing the leg from downtown to Verdae/CU-ICAR, with the City furnishing the bridges. Also, the original Swamp Rabbit Trail is finally being repaved and rehabilitated in places.The Rec Department revenue has taken a hit with the pandemic.  County revenue across the board is slightly down, but not so much that we cannot meet existing commitments.  That means, however, that spending will be constrained over the coming year.  I don’t see any “new” money coming in for all of the ideas and requests that are being brought to us.

 

Answers from Will Morin received on August 19, 2020:

I believe that the best way to answer all three questions is this:

Cars are a cancer and more roads only metastasize that cancer.

The focus of Greenville County Council must be on mass transit and greater access for all citizens – not just those living within a 1/2 mile of the SRT. We need significant expansion of dedicated lanes for human powered vehicles and separate lanes for pedestrian traffic in every major thoroughfare and secondary roads in Greenville County. These lanes must be separated by curbs and elevation.

If a road is replaced or rehabilitated then two additional lanes for cyclists and pedestrians must be constructed. The county has the funding in sequestration and can easily accomplish this task.

You will not find another council member with a stronger opinion about the needs of safe, dedicated lanes for cycling and pedestrians than myself.

 

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