There are only two candidates running for the Aiken County Council District 2 seat – business owner and Republican Mike Stake and former chief financial officer, Newtown, New Jersey, town manager and Republican Camille Furgiuele.
County Councilman Scott Singer holds the seat, but recently announced he would not run for another term.
The duo will face each other on June 10 in South Carolina's primary race.
Each were given the same questions during a face-to-face interview, and these are their responses.
• What strengths in your background will you bring to County Council?
Furgiuele: “... I think communication is very important – to be able to communicate I think a County Council person needs to be a good liaison between the resident and the government; I think I have that skill. I have my experience, obviously. ... The other area is common sense. ... I think common sense is a very important thing to have. You have to talk to those around you and figure out how you're going to fix it.”
Stake: “That's going to be super easy. No. 1, I'm a 10th Amendment guy, and I believe in a sovereign state and a sovereign county. I also believe in fiscal responsibility. You know what, we can't have everything we want, but we have to pay attention to things we need, and there's a big difference between need and want. ... As a business guy, I'm super creative. Give me a number, I'll call them and I'll get them interested in coming to Aiken or South Carolina.”
• Is there a priority issue, project or item that you are most passionate about or will be vocal about on County Council?
Furgiuele: “I have always had a passion for public safety. I think that's one of the priorities in any government, and I think as far as the sheriff, fire department and EMS, that's something that I look forward to delving into. I want to make certain they are well-trained, well-equipped and well-staffed. Also, we must recognize the job that they do. ... I think the people here just do a phenomenal job. When you are most vulnerable as a citizen, that's when you need a police officer, a fireman or an EMS (worker) – that's when you want your government to shine.”
Stake: “No TIFs (tax increment financing). The first thing we understand is 'control the envelope.' No. 1, we need protection – public safety, fire and emergency services. (If) we can't provide those types of things, we're not providing for the people in our county. We need better infrastructure, we need roads. We need to fix our roads and we need to fix our bridges. The third priority is more business – we need more industry and more business.”
• The General Assembly in the past years has made cuts to the Local Government Fund which allows the County to be able to pay for buildings such as the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control office. If these cuts persist, how will you handle them?
Furgiuele: ”When I used to testify in front of the Senate and House in New Jersey, this was the subject. ... If the Senate should decide to cut that $600,000 or so from that fund, they should have to take responsibility for the fact that we would have to raise the millage rate. ... I would say at least fund those counties and municipalities at least at the level that you were funding at, and I would strongly suggest they take responsibility for a tax increase by cutting monies to Aiken County and forcing the millage to go up.”
Stake: “The only thing you can do is figure out what do you need and what do we want. We need to do the things that will take care of Aiken County; everything else is a want.”
• Do you support a millage increase?
Furgiuele: “My theory was, you raise the millage when the need is there and explain to the people why. When there was a need, I would explain it. I would have had points like you wouldn't believe to explain to the people and press in terms that they could understand – not to dazzle with verbiage and spreadsheets. I wanted, and council wanted, the people to understand.”
Stake: “No. ... My whole bottom line is no taxes. You're taking the easy way out by raising the millage. ... I'd like to see property taxes go down. ... That's why people in real estate don't do business in Aiken County. ... You free up some of my money, I'll spend it. If I have to keep paying taxes, I'll hoard it.”
• Are there any areas of the County budget you think could be trimmed?
Furgiuele: “After June, I'd like to be more involved. After January, I'd want to be totally absorbed in that process. ... I'm not sure it's my place until I actually can get into the budget. I can't give specifics as far as the County budget is concerned. Once I look at it, we can look at shifting and prioritizing.”
Stake: “There are things the County does, that private industry could do better and cheaper. ... I'd like to see the County as a conduit, and let's privatize things the County does to the best of our ability. We can usher in a new person with a business and support them. I just know I want to shrink government, and privatizing can be cheaper and quicker.”
• What made you interested in running for County Council?
Furgiuele: “... I have the experience, and I've been involved in many things in Aiken since I moved down here. I had gotten involved in other things – (I) served on the board of directors in Cedar Creek for two terms. I enjoyed doing that, and I took some of the experience I had and put it in play in that area, as well. I think that that's what drew me to it. ... When I represent people, I represent them like they are my kids.”
Stake: “My impetus is just that the craziness has got to stop. Project Jackson with the TIFs has got to stop. ... There's not a whole lot of things transparent. I want a comprehensive budget in the county. ... I want a comprehensive budget, so you and you and me as a public can flip the book open and say, 'Oh, that's what it was for.'”
• Why should residents vote for you?
Furgiuele: “My experience and my commitment. Unfortunately, I have a lot of time now I can give to the job. I'm retired. I'm also passionate, and I really love Aiken County. We, both my husband and I, felt that God just placed us in South Carolina, in Aiken County ... We've never regretted for one moment moving to Aiken County.”
Stake: “It's not so much me versus Camille. Had I not stepped into this race, it would have ceased to become an election, and it would've become a selection. ... Camille will continue to do the same job Scott Singer did, and (to) people who embrace government, she will continue to do the job they wish you (to) do – I will not. I'm in the business of saving money, and I ask, 'Where can we do that?'”
Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter for the Aiken Standard.