Staff Report for Island Eye News
Sandy Ferencz and Wendy Kelly will face off in the Feb. 13 special election for the seat vacated by Jimmy Carroll on the Isle of Palms City Council. They are both long-time island residents. To better familiarize you with their platforms, the Island Eye News posed to them the same questions we asked of the 11 candidates in the November 2017 election, issues that we can expect Council will tackle in the coming year. Their answers, in full, appear below. Please mark your calendar for Tuesday, Feb. 13 and vote.
1. The city introduced a managed beachparking plan in 2016. How do you feel it addressed the problems? What would you like to see improved or changed?
FERENCZ: The managed beach-parking plan initiated in 2016 was a great beginning to addressing a major island challenge. How do we remain a friendly welcoming island and yet protect the integrity of our community and its residents? At the time Council was stymied with how to enforce paid parking with all sorts of technological products, none of which truly answered our needs.
Jimmy Carroll, now Mayor, introduced the concept of free parking on Palm to enable us to get a plan working before the beginning of the season. In my opinion, it is now time to address the complaints of residents on Palm between 21st and 41st who cannot get out of their driveways safely and also fear for the safety of excited children running across Palm ahead of their parents to get to the beach. In addition those residents living on the side streets between Breach Inlet and 10th deserve attention. It may be time to consider paid parking year round, island wide, with residents free. Kiosks might be placed at every beach walk over where signs are already present. Our Beach Service Officers could enforce the parking and act as communications officers to assist visitors with Kiosk locations and ticket placements. We are then welcoming in a safe responsive way while protecting our residents and visitors alike.
KELLY: From a personal standpoint, the improvement between summer 2015 and summer 2016 was remarkable. During the summer of 2015, there were several times when my driveway was completely blocked by illegally parked cars. In fact, over the Fourth of July holiday, there was a line of cars parked right down the middle of my street. The following year, after the parking plan went into effect, there were no parking issues on my street at all. As the population east of the Cooper continues to grow, it would behoove us to continue to observe and discuss the parking situation on Isle of Palms. Many coastal municipalities charge for any and all beach parking. New technologies, such as phone apps, may become useful going forward, and wouldn’t necessitate adding more signs to what we already have.
2. In the face of rising seas, are current approaches to beach maintenance featuring emergency scraping and re-nourishment every ten years sufficient and feasible? Do you think the funding sources in the past are fair and sustainable?
FERENCZ: Mother Nature is going to have her way no matter how many millions of cubic yards of sand is placed on our beaches. I would like to initiate conversations with experts who, rather than doing 10 year temporary fixes, look at a long term strategy. What that is I don’t know, but piling sand up for the ocean to take it down the beach cannot be the only solution. But I readily admit that until a permanent solution is found we have no other choice. The city policy of funding beach re-nourishment with “Stake Holder” contributions, grants, FEMA reimbursements, loans and ATAX has worked so far. For the future I feel we need to establish a beach re-nourishment fund starting now for island wide projects, a major one already which is on the books for 2024. With the 1% Beach Preservation Fund from the County, as a known quantity, we can better plan for emergency situations. However, as previously stated, I feel we need to aggressively begin negotiations with State and Federal agencies regarding permanent solutions now prevented by law. Environmental changes now and in the future may call for newer methods, or hard decisions about endangered structures. The fact that Mother Nature is going to take sand back into her ocean and move it down stream is indisputable.
KELLY: Our coastline is constantly changing, so none of us can predict with any real accuracy when our beaches will need maintenance. That said, a healthy beach is critically important–not only to our city, but to the State and to Charleston County. Clearly, the beach is the reason most of us live here, and it’s definitely the reason people visit and vacation here. So far, the State has made an effort to ensure that funds are available for the beaches, but there is no real commitment to keep the funding up. Unfortunately, Charleston County is not financially supporting beach maintenance, which I find both disappointing and counter-productive since our beaches contribute to the County’s coffers by drawing tourism. As a city, our beach preservation fee, funded through tourism, collects about $1 million per year. If we can get the State, the County and the City all on the same page, we should have a healthy beach for generations.
3. Would you like to see improvements at the Rec. Center? If yes, what would you like to see and how do you propose to pay for them?
FERENCZ: There is a Master Plan for the Recreation Center which I feel needs to be reviewed and revised before any changes are made. The Recreation fund, which was established at the time the plan was developed is almost depleted, so funding will be a challenge. However, we have the best Recreation Center East or West of the Cooper River and more and more off island folks have found our treasure. Again we face the situation of being welcoming, while protecting the island resident’s use of the facility. Our demographic, while predominately older retirees, now has a blossoming growth of young families and children. How we meet their needs should be front and center of every program decision. We will need to address island resident vs. off island users and the fees they pay. One example is that every dog that uses our Doggie Park should have an IOP license.
That assures that every canine in the park has received his/her rabies inoculations. It is only $5 on Isle of Palms as compared to $25 on our neighboring island community.
KELLY: Yes, absolutely. Our beautiful Rec. Center is such an integral part of our community, it’s hard to imagine that not so long ago, there were members of our current city government who strongly opposed its construction. As one of the island’s best assets, I very much support improvements; in particular, expanding the fitness center and adding a cardio room. I’m a fairly athletic person, and having run several marathons and more 5ks than I care to remember, I typically get most of my exercise outside. However, the older I get, the more I appreciate a well-lit, stable, climate-controlled environment for fitness. And fitness is something that should be a priority for ALL of us, no matter what age we are.
Ideally, I would like to see the improvements funded, at least partially, through the revenues generated by the expanded services, as opposed to any kind of tax increase. I’d like to look into some less conventional funding as well, such as having local businesses sponsor or donate equipment or space.
4. What would you like to see accomplished during your term on Council?
• Address residential priorities
• Balancing tourism with residential issues
• Maintain and preserve our beach as our most important asset
• Keeping our beach clean and safe
• Aggressively fight off-shore drilling
• Establish more long term beach preservation funding
• Develop balanced approach to residents/non-residents issues
• Review and improve current day-trippers parking plan
• Focus on infrastructure needs
• Address building maintenance
• Address safety issues at our Marina and focus on critical repairs and improvements
• Address repairs needed to sidewalks and beach crossovers/ handicap accesses
• Address safety lighting and monitoring of parking areas
• Focus on our budget needs vs. wants through fiscal accountability
KELLY: I’d definitely like to continue to address the issues my neighbors and I are struggling with right now, such as storm water drainage and coyote control.
Getting input from the entire island, as the City is committed to doing by hosting two community forums in February, should really help us come together to find effective, workable solutions. I’d like to see a continued construction/expansion of bike paths along Palm and Waterway, as well. Beyond that, as a member of council, I’d be more interested in hearing from everyone else on the island to learn what they want for their island.
5. How much money should the city have in reserves?
FERENCZ: With a more fiscally responsible Council, debt can be managed allowing for unplanned events without incurring more debt. We need at least six months of unassigned, unencumbered funds or approximately $6 million dollars.
According to our latest audit we have $2.7 million of unassigned funds and $2.1 million in Disaster Preparedness. In the face of a major disaster, governmental dollars may eventually come, but in my opinion, we need to be self-reliant. To cover operations, debt service and loss of tourism dollars for a year, we would need in excess of $12 million dollars and that does not include the actual disaster expenses.
KELLY: As a parent of two college-aged daughters, I will say I can pinch a penny harder than anyone I know! That means making tough choices on needs versus wants. Whether you’re talking about a city or a family, it’s a challenge to save money, but it’s absolutely critical. Just like some of my family’s savings are earmarked for specific purchases like a new car or a vacation, the city has specific uses for its reserves, such as new Public Works trucks and large-scale projects like storm water management. But the most important reserves are those that will ensure we are well-prepared for the unknowns–particularly storms. How much is enough is difficult to quantify without a crystal ball, but just as for families, it’s a general rule to have enough cash reserves available to cover 6 months of operating expenses. Thankfully, the city’s current reserves exceed that timeframe.
More importantly, the city has managed to increase its reserves every year, and that is a trend I support.
Your current Isle of Palms City Council consists of 7 councilmembers and newly elected Mayor Jimmy Carroll. The Special Election to fill Mayor Carroll’s Council Seat will be Tuesday, Feb. 13. Voting takes place at the Isle of Palms City Hall and the Isle of Palms Recreation Center from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.