Norman Jackson said with his election eight years ago, Lower Richland finally started getting its share of money for tourism events, money that previously went to projects in the city of Columbia.
But Don Weaver, Jackson’s opponent in District 11, said Jackson has manufactured projects eligible for Richland County tourist taxes instead of extending the money to basic services that also benefit visitors.
Tuesday, voters will choose between the two for a suburban seat on County Council representing neighborhoods from the Dorn VA Medical Center south to the McEntire Air National Guard Base. It’s the first serious challenge faced by Jackson since he was elected to the Democrat-leaning district in 2007.
Council members, who represent geographical districts, serve four-year terms. They are paid $17,777 a year.
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Jackson, a Democrat, said he has been “hammered” for cornering a portion of the county’s $5 million annual restaurant-tax budget.
“Before I got on council, the money was being spent in the city of Columbia and Northeast Richland — all of the areas except Lower Richland,” Jackson said. “Nothing happened in Lower Richland, anything of any kind, until I got on council.”
The county office that manages hospitality tax awards does not routinely track expenditures by district.
Two years ago, Jackson convinced his colleagues to buy 40 acres along Garners Ferry Road for $1 million. The property, known as Caughman Pond or Pineview Lake, will be used for fishing. It will have walking trails. Jackson envisions a multi-purpose building and amphitheater, too.
Just recently, the county got federal approval to disturb wetlands to build trails around the lake, Jackson said.
“If everything goes well, it will take another year to complete,” he said. Costs have been estimated at $1 million to $4 million, depending on the amenities.
Jackson said the project is an example of his commitment to improving the quality of life in Lower Richland.
But Weaver, a Republican, takes issue with Jackson’s approach.
“Norman is too determined to build some type of cathedral to recreation in Lower Richland as his signature project,” he said. “That’s not really what residents are telling me, walking door to door. They want the infrastructure that’s already in place to be well-maintained.”
He maintains the county should try “stretching the definition of a tourist expense” as some other S.C. counties have done, guiding the money toward infrastructure needs, from sidewalks to public restrooms at parks.
Much of the race has focused on the county’s plans for a public sewerage system extending from Hopkins to Eastover, a plan that’s generated controversy in Hopkins. But only a small portion of the system is in District 11.
Meanwhile, supporters for each candidate say:
• Jackson is accessible and supports neighborhoods, says Jim McCauley, who lives in Hickory Ridge.
For example, he said Jackson put him in touch with “the right people” to get financial support for a neighborhood project supporting homeless students with school supplies and the like.
“He is for the people,” McCauley said.
• Weaver will look out for taxpayers, said Sam Kopack, who lives in Berkley Forest.
After all, he established the S.C. Association for Taxpayers. He’s also a long-time businessman, which would be an asset to the council as it develops a budget, settles on spending and formulates tax policy, Kopack said.
“He knows what he’s talking about with business, let’s face it.”