Monday, January 23, 2006

'Strickland to seek seat as commissioner'

The News Reporter

Howell Strickland, the fighting farmer from Fair Bluff who has taken an eminent domain case against Progress Energy to the state Supreme Court, announced last week that he would run for the Columbus County Board of Commissioners.

Strickland would run in the Democratic primary for the District 6 seat currently held by Kip Godwin. Godwin has not committed to running for another term.

“I want to see if I can make a difference and help the people in this county,” Strickland said. “I speak what’s on my mind. I might be outspoken a bit but at least people know where I stand.”

Strickland said his fight against Progress Energy, which wants to build a 230-kilovolt power line across his 250-year-old family farm, gave him some motivation to run.

“I found out the little man’s voice is not even heard,” he said. “Everyone in this county deserves to be heard – people on fixed income, people who work for minimum wage. I know how difficult it is for them to maintain a standard of living and they have no time for politics. I want to do what the majority of the people want – not just what a few want.”

Strickland is the son of Pittman and Ruth Strickland, who owned Strickland’s Tire Service for 32 years, selling tires to farmers across what is now county commission District 6. Phillip Strickland, his older brother, died two years ago.

A 1967 graduate of West Columbus High School, Howell Strickland runs the family farm off Hinson’s Crossroads near the South Carolina state line. He attends Spring Branch Baptist Church in South Carolina, which is just one mile from his house.

“I have always worked two jobs,” Strickland said,” growing tobacco, corn and sweet potatoes in the summer and working construction in the winter.

He started working construction in 1983. At first he was a subcontractor working for others and then he obtained a contractor’s license and went into business as a primary contractor.

He has put in water and sewer lines, among many other types of work, in North Carolina and South Carolina. He won a contract once in Key West, Fla.

“I’ve been lucky enough to make a living off of farming and construction and pay all my bills and debts,” he said. “I never filed any type of bankruptcy. As everyone in Columbus County knows, if you’re farming, you have to live within a budget. I would like to see the board of commissioners live within a budget. There’re a lot of times I couldn’t buy a piece of equipment because I didn’t have the money. I had to wait till next year. The county needs to take the same approach.”

Strickland is dissatisfied with the current performance of county government, which he blames for the high tax burden on residents.

He lives in Water District 2 and pays water taxes but would likely never have access to county water. He can see the South Carolina state line sign from Hinson’s Crossroads in front of his house.

“I think we should have worked for grant funding for the entire project and not just put the burden on taxpayers,” he said. “I’ve been putting in water and sewer lines for years,” he said. “A lot of times a county was building the system in phases and they might wait three years before another grant came along. That made sense because people didn’t have to pay so much through property taxes. Otherwise, it’s like buying a piece of equipment with no down payment.”

On economic development, Strickland sees the county’s proximity to the Grand Strand as a way of attracting business and industry to replace the jobs that have been lost in recent years.

“Our factories and plants have pretty much left the county,” he said. “That makes it hard for people to pay their taxes and afford the high cost of medicine. Columbus County is close enough to the beach that we can draw a lot into this county but it’s not going to come to us. I’ve never had anything fall in my lap. You have to work hard at it.”

Strickland supports the movement for electing county commissioners countywide instead of by district.

“I think county commissioners should be held accountable to everyone for their actions,” he said. “The best way to do that is with countywide elections.”

Strickland is realistic about the impact he would have on the county’s economy and political troubles.

“I know I can’t fix everything,” he said. “I’m not promising I can fix everything but I can make it better, considering the damage that’s been done by our county government.”

Here is a link to the May 2004 article in the News Reporter explaining Mr. Strickland's trouble with Progress Energy.

posted by David at 5:24 PM :: Permalink ::