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Before heading to the polls, what to know about the candidates for Lexington mayor

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In addition to three open council seats, the race for the mayor’s seat in the Town of Lexington is heating up. Incumbent Mayor Steve MacDougall, who has been in the role since 2014, is opposed by challenger Ron Williams, who has been on council since April 2014.

MacDougall, who spent most of his career in hospitality, managing restaurants in Columbia, was elected to council in 2011. In 2014, he decided to run against the sitting Mayor Randy Halfacre, who otherwise would have been unopposed. MacDougall said he wanted to change the perception people in the Midlands had of the Town of Lexington.

“It’s a special place and it deserved somebody that would, on a daily basis, put it first,” he said.

Williams, who first ran for council because he saw it as a continuation of other community service he engaged in for most of his adult life, has worked as a boat salesman at Hall Marine in Lexington for a decade.

He said he is proud to have been “extremely active” in the town over the past several years — coaching sports teams, mentoring grade school kids and leading local Boy Scouts. He said he is running for mayor because he received encouragement from residents who are displeased with the current leadership.

What would they do if elected?

Both MacDougall and Williams said they would look to streamline communication if they were elected.

MacDougall said he would prioritize finding better ways to communicate with constituents, and that the town already purchased a drone camera in order to better promote itself and inform the public, he said.

Williams said he would hope to forge a better relationship between the town and the state Department of Transportation so traffic projects can be completed faster. He said he would also attend as many local homeowners association meetings as possible if he is elected.

Williams said transparency is the next step: that he would bring council work sessions out of the “basement” of town hall and on camera, similar to how council meetings are televised.

MacDougall said he would continue pushing forward on traffic plans, such as the half-completed project to synchronize traffic signals in town to ease congestion. He said he wants that project to be complete by the end of 2019.

Williams also said traffic was a big concern of his. According to him, there is a ranked list of high-priority intersection upgrades that he would want to tackle immediately — fix the infrastructure before bringing in more development, he says — and find funding for it in the existing budget or by setting aside money in the future.

He also said he would consider curbing development and precocious growth with an annual “cap” on home building, similar to a system Mount Pleasant introduced. However, before doing so, Williams said he would get together with home builders, council and other stakeholders to study the needs of the community and come up with a long-term plan.

Other projects on the to-do list for MacDougall include combining standard swing sets at Virginia Hylton Park with those that are accessible for people with disabilities, connecting amphitheater parking to the park and continuing with the plan to make a “walkable downtown.”

MacDougall also said if he is reelected, he will introduce a new tax on development, similar to an impact fee, to help reduce taxes on residents.

Williams, on the other hand, said he will work with legislators to bring some of the gas tax back to the local level to help alleviate the tax burden on residents.

What have they done while on council?

While on council, MacDougall helped develop a “vision plan” for the town. The first plan was fulfilled by 2015, he said, and the updated 2017 version will be complete by 2019. He said he is also proud of having worked on bringing a dog park to town, initiated the planned traffic flow improvements and gotten the amphitheater up and running.

“I think I’m where I’m supposed to be,” MacDougall said.

Williams played a role at the start of road improvements, and was also on council to oversee the completion of the amphitheater and traffic signalization infrastructure, he said.

Though Williams was reluctant to say he spearheaded projects as a council member — emphasizing all members operate on an equal playing field — he said he fought to put a sunset clause on the newest hospitality tax. That meant there would be a start and end date for the money, and that it would not end up in an annual $1 million-plus slush fund at council’s discretion.

The hospitality tax, which is a two-pennies-on-the-dollar tax on prepared foods sold in the town, was created to pay for road improvements. The sunset clause limited the tax until Dec. 31, 2023, according to a 2015 report in The State.

The tax generates more than $1 million a year, and revenue is to be used for these three projects, which were estimated to cost $13.6 million in 2015:

  • Add a traffic circle on Corley Mill Road and a side lane off it near U.S. 378 and I-20.

  • Install a traffic circle at S.C. 6 and U.S. 378, with new routes into Lexington Middle School.

  • Make parts of S.C. 6 and Church Street one-way.

What else should I know before voting?

If Williams is not elected, he will remain on council for two more years until his term expires in 2020. He said he will likely retire when his term ends.

MacDougall said he might make a pass at the State House — “Senate or higher” — in the future.

Cueto can be reached at 803-771-8621, @isabellacueto
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