By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Contributing Editor
The two contenders for Isle of Palms mayor faced off in a candidates forum hosted by The League of Women Voters and Island Eye News on Tuesday, Oct. 17.
Incumbent Dick Cronin is seeking his third term as mayor, and councilmember Jimmy Carroll, who has served one and half terms on city council, is looking to unseat him. There will be a special election for the remaining two years of Carroll’s council term should he be elected mayor.
The venue for the debate, The Isle of Palms Exchange Club, was standing room only as the two candidates took to the podium at 6 p.m. The format involved questions submitted in writing by audience members and then posed to the candidates by the moderator. Following an introduction by The League each candidate gave a brief opening statement.
“I’m doing this out of a love for Isle of Palms,” Carroll said. “I want to give back to our community, I’ve served 6 years as a council member and now I want to serve as mayor. These past few years on council I have not been happy with the direction our city has gone with our spending, I’ve not been happy with the marina, the referendum on the marina I’ve not been happy with, the extended lease I have not been happy with, I voted against the lease, we also had a tax increase which I voted against. This is something I think we need to look at as a city and be fiscally responsible for the future of IOP.”
Next, Mayor Cronin gave his remarks. “I’ve been mayor here for the last 9 years, my how time passes quickly – you all know about me and what I stand for, where I come from so I’m not going to go into that… . “What’s really important to me on the island, and has been for the full 9 years, is making sure people are safe. That’s something we tend to gloss over in many cases. We have a police dept and fire department, a police dept that has just been accredited again to the gold standard. The fire department has just increased its ISO rating so everybody’s insurance rates will go down, but the entire staff when put to the test [during storms or other disasters] works extremely hard to make this the island we all love,” Cronin concluded.
The evening was very genial, with the candidates, who have worked together on council for 6 years, gently ribbing each other to much laughter from the audience. On many of the questions, including the issues of livability, day trippers, parking on Ocean Boulevard, importance of a stormwater drainage fix and beach renourishment in Wild Dunes, there was not much division. However, when it came to the issue of finances the differences emerged. Principally, the candidates are on opposite sides over the proposed marina revitalization bond on the ballot at the election.
“One of the worst business decisions we have ever made is voting to give the marina tenants a 30 year lease, knowing we were about to take this (bond) on,” said Carroll, pointing out that City of Charleston Marina has a more beneficial lease and that IOP should have gone for a triple net lease, which he pushed for.
“The marina referendum does not benefit the residents it just benefit the tenants – this will cause more traffic and more congestion,” he said.
“We have a lease that is more favorable to us than the City of Charleston’s does. Theirs is not a triple net lease,” responded Cronin. “They would prefer to have our lease than the lease they have on their marina.
“It is a worthwhile endeavour to improve the marina, we have to look to the next 20 years,” he continued. “We need to do the whole project and get it done right, the bond will be paid for by the leaseholders, and it’s a great benefit to the city and residents.”
Carroll expressed his opinion that instead of financing a marina revitalization the city should look for more funds in reserve in case of a disaster and to address infrastructure issues.
Cronin responded to questions on the city’s reserve funds and how it would tackle a major disaster by pointing out that there are significant reserves right now.
“We have roughly $6 million in our general fund, $2.3 million is set aside for disaster recovery another $2.8 in an unallocated General Fund funds – those are funds we never touch. In addition, we have a couple million dollars not anticipated to be spent in our tourism funds. In total we have $14 to $15 million, but we have plans to spend it – such as the stormwater project that $2.8 million. But we have, for any disaster, close to $8 million.”
He also touted the Beach Preservation Fee act he helped champion through the State Legislature, which provides funds from tourism taxes specifically earmarked for beach preservation. “I am confident we can ride through any storm of any magnitude for a fair amount of time …. Even without any income for a year or so.” Carroll believes the city is worse off than it should be.
“For a disaster we have to have enough to provide services through a whole year,” he said.
“Hugo took us 3, 4, 5 years to recover from. We right now have $2.3 million in our emergency fund, we just used $250,000 to scrape up our beaches, we have these other funds but that would be like robbing Peter to pay Paul, I just don’t believe in using other funds we have allocated to other programs.”
Cronin rebutted saying that many of the funds he referenced are unallocated and available in the event we have a disaster.
Carroll rebutted his rebuttal, “Again I would dwell on disasters – it’s not if a hurricane hits, it’s when a hurricane hits. I want to be a city whose fiscally responsible, I want to run it like a business, be prepared for the good and the bad.”
The election is on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Precincts are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Absentee voting began Oct. 9 at 4367 Headquarters Rd. North Charleston and closes at 5 p.m. the Monday before the election. Call 843.744.8683 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
For more on the candidates stances on the issues, see the Mayoral Question and Answer article on pages 1 and 14 of this issue.