«

»

Oct 11 2017

Isle Of Palms City Council Candidates In Their Own Words

By Katy Calloway, The Island Eye News Editor

The Island Eye News reached out to the 11 candidates for City Council and asked them six questions compiled by our editorial staff. The candidate’s unedited answers to three questions are reprinted below in their entirety, in alphabetical order by candidate’s last name. The answers to the last three questions will appear in the Oct. 27 Island Eye News. This week’s questions are as follows:

1. The city introduced a managed beach parking plan in 2016. How do you feel it addressed the problems? What would you like to see improved or changed?

2. Do you support the referendum to improve and maintain the Marina? Why or Why not? Can the Marina pay for the new bond in the same fashion it did for the purchase?

3. In the face of rising seas, are current approaches to beach maintenance featuring emergency scraping and renourishment every ten years sufficient and feasible? What other resources would you like to see? Do you think the funding sources in the past are fair and sustainable? Would you like to address this differently? How should the city fund its portion?

1. The city introduced a managed beach parking plan in 2016. How do you feel it addressed the problems? What would you like to see improved or changed?

Randy Bell

While the parking plan introduced in 2016 has been beneficial in eliminating non-resident incursion into neighborhoods, more can be done to alleviate island congestion and improve public safety during peak visitation. We provide approximately 7.5 times the S.C. mandated parking based on beach access calculations. The non-beach side of Palm Blvd. has mostly moved from parallel to perpendicular parking compounding the congestion and impacting safety on both sides of the road. IoP simply cannot absorb the rate of desired daily visitation given surrounding community population growth. All options should be fully considered and evaluated.

Barbara Bergwerf

When I first ran for council eight years ago, I pointed out the exploding population around us. I cringe every time I see new housing being built in Mt. Pleasant. I think to myself….they’re all coming to the beach on Isle of Palms. We listened to the residents and came up with a plan to limit the available parking areas, which in turn pushed day trippers to the city lots. The object was to keep the traffic off neighborhood streets. The plan, for the most part, has succeeded in doing this. I will always look at making improvements.

Ryan Buckhannon

The parking plan has helped to alleviate some of the parking issues throughout the island, but there is always room improvement.

Implementing the managed beach parking cost an initial $250,000 and has an annual average cost of $80,000. Visitors utilizing the free parking areas impacts our Public Works, Fire, Police and contracted beach services. These additional expenses on top of the annual $80,000 cost have no offsetting revenue and therefore is an expense covered by taxpaying residents. The city needs to offset these annual expenses through a paid parking system. Technology is now readily available to make this happen.

Jonathan Gandolfo

Parking in Isle of Palms is always going to be challenge and there will never be a perfect solution. It’s a difficult balance to allow beach access while preserving the community. The 2016 Parking Plan solved some problems, but it created others. Like many residents, I am disgusted by the amount of ugly parking signs that are littering our beautiful island. What’s worse is that most of the signs aren’t even needed 75% of the year. I propose that we not only reduce the volume of signs, but we explore putting out only the absolute necessary ones during summer only.

Patrick Harrington

Although the initial response from residents has been positive, we will continue to monitor and adjust. We have made periodic changes based on resident voiced concerns, i.e., restricted parking on the 41st Ave curve. We will continue to observe and respond to required changes in the future.

Mike Loftus

The Beach Management Plan is a great example of Council and the City working through a challenging problem and finding a workable solution. In April of 2015 there was Plan A and Plan B and both plans had flaws. I came up with a KISS (keep it simple stupid) plan that became Plan C and it kept the visitor parking out of the neighborhoods and focused on Palm Blvd.

The plan was well executed and tweaked this past beach season. I think the plan is working and as the beach traffic evolves we should also encourage carpooling.

Justin Miklas

Plain and simple – we have a small, beautiful island that is going to attract a lot of visitors – parking is always going to be an issue.

The managed parking plan has helped reduce tourist parking in some areas, but there are others areas where parking during the summer is total chaos. This is not just an inconvenience, it is a safety issue. I would like the city to take a more disciplined approach to evaluating our parking needs and focus on the safety and efficiency of our parking areas.

John Moye

We live in one of the most beautiful beach communities on the East Coast. With the region’s steady influx of growth, parking challenges will also continue. Our beach parking plan must simultaneously address the needs of residents while balancing the desires of visitors. The current plan attempts to provide sufficient beach access and space to park while not interfering with the quality of life for island residents, but there is room for improvement. I will work diligently to utilize incoming data, study successful plans from other communities and improve upon the current plan by striking the balance.

Ralph Piening

The parking plan was a big step forward, but there is still work to be done. While the city lot is rarely full, there is gridlock on Palm Blvd. We need to limit parking to the ocean side of the street as a safety measure for the visitors and for our public safety. No other beach community permits this density of parking in a residential neighborhood. And it is time to end Ocean Blvd’s “sacred status” and let visitors park there on the ocean side. There is plenty of space and it would relieve the congestion on Palm Blvd.

Susan Hill Smith

The 2016-2017 parking changes improved organization and protected many residential areas.

But we need to steer visitors first to paid spots and lots at Front Beach – they take in $700,000 annually – and address traffic/safety issues created by drivers looking for free street parking, especially along Palm Boulevard, which can be a hot mess.

We might reduce street spaces along Palm and/ or convert free spots to paid parking. Possibilities to explore: Using an online system in which visitors reserve spots in zones – or having visitors purchase decals for those street spots. Either way, neighbors park free with resident decals.

Rusty Williamson

It gave some relief in areas on the IOP. Better promotion of parking rules is a must.

2. Do you support the referendum to improve and maintain the Marina? Why or why not? Can the Marina pay for the new bond in the same fashion it did for the purchase?

Bell

While I remain 100% supportive of the fact that IOP should invest in Marina improvements, a referendum based on a steady funding stream of S.C. Accommodation and Hospitality Tax is irresponsible. The 30 year lease terms granted to the operator ensure that the city will continue to offset annual operating losses of approximately $100K per year while commercial interest grow at the expense of IOP residents with little to no residential benefit. I stand by my previously published OpEd.

Buckhannon

I do support the improvement and maintenance of the marina, I don’t believe that the entire cost should be the burden of the city. Whether the referendum passes or not, the city will still have to move forward and replace the docks around the marina. Improvement of the parking areas belonging to the tenants should be at the expense of those tenants. Common areas within the marina lot should be a cost sharing between all the tenants and the city. That is why I am confused why this council chose to bundle up all the areas into one referendum when the leases explicitly detail who is responsible for what.

Bergwerf

Yes, I support the referendum. Yes, the new bond will be paid for in the same fashion as the first, using Marina revenues and tourist funds. The existing marina has evolved, it certainly was not PLANNED. Traffic and parking are unorganized and unsafe.

Making the marina more usable by residents was an important task for the city. More boat slips for residents, parking for bicycles, golf cart parking, green space with swings and benches, a pathway around the edge of the marina, and a “city dock” where residents can enjoy the water. This city asset must be maintained.

Gandolfo

I will vote against the marina referendum. There is no reason to take on more debt. The tenant was gifted a 30 year-lease that was poorly negotiated by our city leaders. We can’t change what’s been agreed to, but we certainly don’t need to compound our problems by making more bad decisions.

Let the lessee make the capital improvements he desires. It’s also unconscionable that city leaders want to spend $5.5 million to improve the marina when residents have difficulty getting there some days due to flooding. Seems like a terrible lack of prioritization.

Harrington

Yes, I support this. I believe it is wise to protect and improve City assets. Council has made it clear in numerous public meetings it’s intention that no property taxes will be needed to fund this debt service. Since 2009, there have been no general funds used for marina purchase debt service.

This debt will be paid in full Feb, 2019. The proposed new bond will be similar to the current bond amortization schedule. The financial results for the past 10 years indicate that tourism and marina revenues are more than adequate to fund the new marina bond if approved.

Loftus

The bond to purchase the marina will be paid in full in 2019. The infrastructure of the marina is near the end of its useful life. It makes sense to have a new bond to pay for upgrades. This new bond will be paid for by revenues from Marina business operations and tourism taxes, and not out of property taxes.

The Marina was purchased to provide water access for residents. I’d like to see all rental slips offered to IOP residents at a fair market price and 10 boat trailer spots and 30 parking spots reserved for residents up to 12noon daily.

Miklas

The city marina provides tremendous value to our community and maintaining public access to the Intracoastal Waterway is extremely important. It is an asset that we should be proud of and maintain diligently. In my opinion, however, the proposed revitalization plan is an unsustainable risk that blurs the lines between maintenance and unnecessary expansion. The tax payers should not assume all of the risk for an expansion project that will have no financial benefit to the city. I am all for repairing and maintaining the marina properly, but this is not the right plan.

Moye

This referendum offers a great opportunity for resident and community engagement to decide how we borrow money to fund projects. I wholeheartedly support improvements to our resources; however, I’m concerned the structure of this referendum gives the city a blank check to make them without sufficient guarantees to the residents. The beautiful proposed marina upgrades could change significantly after the funds are made available. Further, the referendum relies upon tourism revenues to fund the bond debt. Should any significant drop in tourism occur (due to a major storm, recession or unanticipated event), the bond debt will fall to the residents.

Piening

I do not support the marina bond referendum as things currently exist at the marina. The marina was bought and paid for by the residents. We own it, yet we don’t get priority for slips or trailer parking. Little has been done by the leaseholders to make it more family friendly or attractive. They are waiting for the city to do this so they in turn can make even more money. No money should spent until a plan is in place to put residents first and then renegotiate all the leases. Finally all tenants need to be audited biannually.

Smith

The Marina offers a needed gathering spot, wonderful opportunities to enjoy the water and other benefits. I support many aspects of the planned improvements – some are sorely needed.

However, I am not in favor of the question – whether to allow the city to borrow up to $5.5 million to pay for the overhaul. Two main reasons: Marina businesses should cover more of the costs one way or another, and the city must gain greater control there to protect and promote residents’ interests. I wish these issues could be clearly resolved before voting.

Williamson

I don’t support the marina plan as proposed. Needed improvements yes, total reboot, no.

3. In the face of rising seas, are current approaches to beach maintenance featuring emergency scraping and re-nourishment every ten years sufficient and feasible? What other resources would you like to see? Do you think the funding sources in the past are fair and sustainable? Would you like to address this differently? How should the city fund it’s portion?

Bell

This question cannot be answered in a brief paragraph. City budgeting continues to move tourism tax dollars as “net positive” unspent funds each year to other capital expense. This practice has been debated by current Council members and the Mayor in Ways and Means Committee. If we are able to reign in spending, reduce both debt and dependence on Tourism Taxes, build larger reserve for all emergencies, and stop acting as if “surplus money is free money”, this becomes a much more responsible conversation.

Buckhannon

Other than placing a permanent sea wall along the coast, which is both illegal and an environmental disaster, we will have to continue to scrape and re-nourish the beach where needed. We previously instituted a Beach Re-Nourishment Fund that put monies aside for future re-nourishment. The city needs to implement a paid parking system for visitors who park for free and use the beaches where IOP taxpayers currently pay for re-nourishment and apply a percentage of those fees to the re-nourishment fund.

With the growth in the Charleston County area that uses the beach, County Council needs to help.

Bergwerf

Isle of Palms is already a developed area. In a perfect world we would prevent construction on our shore. Keeping our beach healthy is paramount. We are using the tools we have available.

Our Mayor, Dick Cronin, worked tirelessly with our state legislators and we now have a Beach Preservation Fund which our tourists pay into when they rent on the island. We are realizing about a million dollars a year to be used for our beaches. There is a cost to living in paradise and we will continue to look for sources of revenue both state and federal.

Gandolfo

Our beach is our brand! It must be preserved, and re-nourished when necessary. Without an amazing beach our property values fall and our entire community is left in jeopardy. A significant portion of our last re-nourishment ($1,895,000) came from FEMA. It’s unwise and unrealistic to think the federal government is always going to be there to bail us out. We need to be a self-sustainable community without having our well-being dependent on decision makers in Washington, D.C.

Harrington

It is only in the past few years that the State has acted on the importance of coastal beaches to Tourism, a direct 1.5-billion-dollar tax revenue. This does not address the indirect impact of employment/ service. Therefore, beach maintenance is a must.

Our City Administrator, a founding member of the SC Beach Advocates Association, was instrumental in bringing this to the attention of State Government. The State then dedicated $30 Million for beach preservation throughout the State and promises similar funds every year.

Our City was granted an award for designing a “public & private collaborative effort for beach preservation”.

Loftus

You would need a crystal ball to accurately forecast beach renourishment needs. What is feasible, is involving more stakeholders— both private and public—to help fund efforts. For example, Charleston County benefits from IOP tourism dollars yet they did not support the current project. In 2016, IOP did begin receiving money directly allocated for re-nourishment from IOP accommodation taxes, but not from Charleston County.

Going forward the most cost effective way for the State to manage re-nourishment in all beach communities would be for DHEC to buy a dredge and proactively take care of the hot spots (so we don’t have to pay private contractors).

Miklas

Our beach is our most valuable asset. Erosion threatens to affect our quality of life and our property values. We should be far more proactive in monitoring the condition of our beach and taking action.

Why do we only talk about our re-nourishment efforts in terms of the dollars spent? We need to clearly define metrics that monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of this and every city program. Doing this would enable us to make strategic, data-driven decisions that maximize the impact our efforts to maintain a clean and healthy beach.

Moye

I have always admired the community on the Isle of Palms in which neighbors come together to support one another in times of need.

When our community is built upon an ever-changing barrier island and subject to the forces of Mother Nature, there is no easy solution to the re-nourishment challenges. I’d like to see the city invest in sustainable alternatives that demonstrate the balance of caring for our residents’ immediate and longterm needs while also spending responsibly.

Piening

The beach is the whole reason we all live here. Period. So it makes sense to do what is necessary to preserve it and a 20% funding level of the project by the city for renourishment seems reasonable to me, both in the past and going forward. Looking at the total city budget from 2008 until 2018, (a budget of about $92M) the current city expenditure for this renourishment project comes to about 3% of the total money budgeted over these 10 years. I think this is quite reasonable and the city has done a good job managing this.

Smith

Emergency scraping rightly protects vulnerable property when events wash dunes away. Beach renourishment is more complicated, but we must pursue viable remedies to dangerous erosion with a proactive approach that steadily build funds for renourishment, adding extra tourism dollars. Similarly, Wild Dunes homeowners are discussing whether to spread their assessments out over time in preparation for paying their share of possible future projects.

For everyone’s sake, we must make decisions with critical eyes. The city should return to a competitive process when selecting consultants to lead renourishment efforts, given the limited success of past projects led by the same firm.

Williamson

No. I believe yearly monitoring is a must. The IOP is fragile and in need of repair and maintenance.

Yes, however, as stated before, I would like to see more ATAX funds used to preserve the beaches.

I would like to see more ATAX funds go to beach restoration and preservation than to advertising.

The election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Two candidates forum are scheduled for Oct. 17 (mayoral race) and Oct. 19 (council race). See page 3 for details. Look for a Q&A with the mayoral candidates in the Oct. 27 issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>