By Katy Calloway, The Island Eye News Editor
The Island Eye News reached out to the eleven candidates for City Council and asked them six questions compiled by our editorial staff. Their unedited answers to the final three questions are reprinted below in their entirety. The first set of questions was printed in the Oct. 13 edition of The Island Eye News and can be found on our website, IslandEyeNews.com under the IOP Election tab. This week’s questions are as follows:
1. 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?
2. How do you feel the island is doing maintaining a balance between residents and tourists? Do you feel the Livability Court is doing its job?
3. What would you like to see accomplished during the first few months of your term on council?
1. Upgrading the existing equipment, yes; however, adding an unnecessary $750,000 – $ 1,000,000 new cardio room without due consideration of responsible financing and operational requirements, absolutely not. Continuing to add debt financing that relies on S.C. Accommodations and Hospitality Tax revenue remains irresponsible.
Having recently toured the recreation facility, there appears to be ample space for significant reconfiguration to accommodate resident desired improvements without an expensive building project. These improvements can be funded through use of general unassigned funds, not tourism taxes requiring non-resident usage.
1. Our current building is wonderful but it is not complete. There is a master plan which even includes a new gym and we have always had a building fund with the intention of making improvements.
I am FOR adding a room which can be used for a cardio/exercise facility and other related uses. There are funds that could be allocated for building this room. For example, we have a very healthy revenue stream from our front beach parking meters. Also we can earmark revenues from programs and fees collected from users of the exercise facility to help finance the expansion.
1. During my previous term on council, I implemented the Fast Start sports programs for 3-5-year-old and the popular Bark Park.
The city needs to continue to evaluate citizens needs and adjust programs accordingly. When we developed the recreation center expansion, the exercise/multipurpose room was supposed to be an expansion to be a fitness center if needed. Not an addition to the building. The only addition that was discussed was a pool. If the residents would like a pool, the cost and offsetting revenues will have to be explored and put to a vote for the residents.
1. I am not in favor of making any massive changes to the recreation center. We can all think of plenty of amenities that would be nice to have, but there are larger priorities. We need to address our aging infrastructure before spending money on accessories that only benefit a small portion of the residents.
1. Yes. There has been an outpouring of support from residents for creating additional multi-purpose and cardio facilities.
I am convinced that expanding recreational facilities and opportunities for residents will add value to living in our community. We have not done any major improvements to the Center since its opening in 2004.
Expanded use will bring in more revenue. I am on record of stating that it is the responsibility of Council to protect and enhance its properties. It is imperative that we develop a sound business plan to assure sustainability and future additional improvements.
1. Yes, I think island residents deserve a high quality gym, similar to the gym portion of the Mt. Pleasant Senior Center. Seniors are the largest demographic on the island and they are underserved.
The gym could be new construction or an existing room could be converted. Doctors say exercise and strength training are keys to longevity and can improve quality of life. Anyone recovering from an injury that needs physical therapy would appreciate not having to leave the island. I’d recommend the gym be for IOP residents only. Those who use it would pay a small monthly or yearly fee.
1. I love the rec center (especially the frisbee golf course!) It is a wonderful facility. It provides countless hours of fun and exercise for our residents and visitors alike. Residents should not have to line up on the sidewalk in the middle of the night to register their kids for summer camp though! We need to have an online registration system for rec center activities. This would greatly reduce the amount of time, money, and effort required to provide these activities, and make them more accessible to a greater portion of our community.
1. The rec center is one of the key assets on our island, and we are fortunate to have access to such incredible facilities. As one of the many, and growing number of young families on the island, it’s important to me that this space is maintained and continuously improved in a way that also ensures the needs and best interests of our residents and children are at the forefront of each decision. I will work to engage the community to prioritize the projects that are likely to benefit the most residents. I’ll also ensure that residents understand the costs, risks and potential adverse impacts of new improvements.
1. I think the rec center is fine as it is. This $700,000 project would morph to over $1 million and we need to repair and maintain what we have before building new wants. Furthermore, there are plenty of excellent fitness centers near IOP and philosophically I don’t think government should be directly competing with private businesses that must pay taxes and licensing fees. For those favoring the rec center expansion, I ask this question: Would you also like to see the city open a dry cleaning shop? How about get into the real estate and rental business?
Susan Hill Smith
1. The Rec offers fantastic opportunities and helps IOP retain its residential character. Let’s maximize this resource and try reinstating Sunday hours. I also see benefits in adding an expanded workout room but need more info about costs and expected use.
We should work toward adding a community pool, which would provide a great gathering spot, exercise and recreation for all ages.
The costs of both of additions could be partly covered with user fees and memberships. Also, a pool could host club swim meets during the school year, bringing in extra dollars and filling off-season accommodations.
1. The recreation center is a big part of the island, and I fully support its mission and what it offers the island residents. I believe we should look at re-purposing areas of the recreation center or reaching out to Wild Dunes for a possible agreement for use of their facilities before we spend money on the improvements proposed.
We need to think of ways to save rather than spend. We need to concentrate efforts to maintain the beach. Saving for the next storm should be tantamount in the long term plan for the Isle of Palms.
2. We can do a better job. Day tripping without economic contribution is costly and disruptive. We need to look at plans that comply with state parking mandates to ensure continued beach funding; however, a reduction in traffic and parking along Palm Boulevard and surrounding neighbors is an imperative. Some aspects of the “livability court” work; however, the discussion should go beyond the current assigned responsibilities and be viewed and managed in concert with public safety, parking, traffic, rental density, new rental models such as AirBnB, VRBO, etc. A succinct definition and strong enforcement plan should follow.
2. My job on council is to protect the residential quality of life on the island When I first ran for council there were mini-hotels popping up all over the island. While upsetting the real estate interests, we passed an ordinance to limit the rental occupancy. The Livability Court was the next step in protecting the residents. I’m proud to have been a part in developing this program. But this program is only as good as the information the police are given. If calls aren’t made to the PD, the program can’t work. We will always look at improving this ordinance.
2. The city government is doing a good job, but with the growth of the tri-county area, they definitely will be met with greater challenges. During my previous term on council, we were able to cap the number of people in rental properties and implemented a parking plan to keep visitor parking out of the neighborhoods. The problem with any new ordinance or policy change is enforcement, but I feel the Livability Court is helping solve those problems and will continue to be challenged in the days to come.
2. I think Isle of Palms has a good balance between residents and tourists. The residents/tax payers should always come first, but we need to recognize that Tourism Revenue is a major part of our local economy. We should continue to make the island friendly for visitors, but not at the expense of the people that live here. I’ve certainly been outspoken in my criticism of Council, but I applaud them for limiting the size of rentals and for the effort that has gone into the parking plan.
2. Respecting this balance has been key to the Council’s recent actions. Beginning with Planning Commission/Council studies, the City sought to curb “mini-hotels” by enacting codes to limit future rental property to a maximum of 12 guests. This has gone a long way toward maintaining a residential nature to the Island. After many years of Planning Commission/Council review, the City engaged in a very pragmatic and professional study to address congestion and parking regulations. The resulting plan has received general resident support but does require continued monitoring and adjustment. The success of the Livability relies on citizens reporting abuses for enforcement.
2. As the tri-county grows, the volume of day visitors and short-term renters will be harder to manage. It’s important to enforce short-term rental and beach parking rules. The current parking plan has been a great start at keeping visitors out of the neighborhoods. The next step could be paid parking on Palm.
This would encourage people to carpool to help relieve congestion and it could help pay for beach re-nourishment. Being a popular destination creates many challenges and the Livability Court is doing its job. While knocking on doors campaigning, I have heard very few complaints about the Court.
2. Managing the balance between tourists and residents is always going to be a concern. Tourist revenue is a vital part of our island’s economy, but their presence can also be an inconvenience.
Maintaining a reasonable livability code and providing law enforcement that prioritizes its enforcement is a vital part of maintaining this balance. The code and enforcement procedures need to be closely monitored on a regular basis though to ensure they remain fair and balanced for both sides.
2. Our public service employees are absolutely phenomenal. Countless islanders have expressed their appreciation for the courtesy, response times and concern for our residents demonstrated by those who serve us. I’m grateful for the police, fire and emergency teams, public works and other dedicated staff who serve our residents in this manner. However, the city leadership has largely taken a reactive stance to the issues that have emerged as tourism and day-tripper volume has increased. The Livability Court is a positive addition to help address some of the resulting concerns, but I’d like to enact a more proactive approach that works to restore balance by minimizing these issues in the first place. In addition to working with nearby municipalities on traffic solutions, I’ll implement best practices from communities similar to ours throughout the country to reduce conflicts that arise between residents and visitors.
2. The city could do a better job of maintaining the residential character of the island, a character that is demanded by our comprehensive city plan. We welcome visitors, but they need to be mindful of the residents who live here by realizing this is not party central. Police only address an issue after someone calls in a complaint and even then a citation is rarely written. There needs to be more primary enforcement and there needs to be more tickets written. Council needs to direct public safety and city administration to implement these changes.
2. Achieving balance will be a challenge given the number of large and small short-term rentals spreading into residential neighborhoods. We should be alert to those trends and their potential impact as we consider zoning, including rules for Airbnb room rentals. Some rental owners take a proactive approach to preventing problems, for example by having a high minimum-age requirement so they serve more families. However, I’ve heard from residents who face real quality-of-life issues due to rentals on their block and who feel uncomfortable in pursuing complaints. Police must be a proactive force in getting cases to Livability Court.
2. As a resident of the Isle of Palms since 2011, I have had a few times where I have needed the assistance of the Livability Officer.
They have have always responded promptly and politely. From barking dogs to loud music and everything between, they handle it all. Having both the Beach Service Officers and the Livability Officer, we have direct contact with the city when we have issues. I believe the city does a great job handling situations that arise year round. I would like to see stricter enforcement regarding rental capacities and parking violations.
3. Change to today’s intransigent 6-3 Council voting pattern with members taking time to listen and independently assess and understand the issues would be a great start. This is a huge change management issue and not easy. We can build a Council that places citizen concerns as the top priority. With broad cooperation I do believe true transparency of publicly needed information can be achieved. Having invested significant personal time creating the much needed conversation on the Marina Referendum, it is painfully difficult to obtain any information that runs contrary to the majority Council opinions. The residents deserve this change.
3. The City Council legislates policy, the city staff implements these policies and runs the day to day work of the city. We will continue to work on beach renourishment, infrastructure repairs, making improvements to our beach paths, but the most pressing needs are to put together an island wide drainage program and to revisit our parking plan. The biggest annual responsibility the council has to face after the first of the year is the budget. This is a yearly challenge is the most important responsibility of the council.
3. I would like to find myself on the Public Works committee where I can use my experience on the City Council to continue the drainage initiatives that I worked on previously. I know that I can hit the ground running working with the Public Works director and the engineers that are needed to evaluate the areas of the island that need to be prioritized for drainage infrastructure improvements.
3. I’m confident the marina referendum won’t pass so we need to get to work finding solutions. The marina needs attention and we need to make the tenant do his part. Council can then present options to the residents as to what capital improvements might be appropriate.
I guarantee the cost is far below what’s being suggested. Another priority should be to figure out the next steps to try and improve our drainage issues. Every candidate has ideas, but none of us are experts in this area. We need to hire someone who is and move forward.
3. Toward the end of each year the Council conducts a public “Vision Meeting” to review progress on previously established goals and open discussion toward establishing new goals for the City. The election results and status of the Marina Referendum will set the stage for this year’s review and goal setting process. Regardless, I see continued progress on the storm water drainage projects, beach renourishment initiatives, and public safety matters as driving the city’s agenda. I am confident that our city will continue to provide the quality of service rendered by our city administrators, department heads, and staff.
3. If I am fortunate to be elected, I’ll be able to hit the ground running because I have previously served and have strong relationships in the community. I’ll dive into current projects like the marina, beach re-nourishment, and drainage upgrades. Having a better gym at the rec center is important and I would like to move the project along. In Mt. Pleasant, the Senior Center is not only a place where people work out, it’s also a social spot where seniors meet up with friends. I hope to continue to be a problem-solver and have a positive impact for residents.
3. My long term goal for the Isle of Palms city government is to change the way we think. Creating true transparency and accountability in government is not easy. It requires a fundamental shift in the way government officials think, communicate, and take action. It requires discipline, it requires data-driven, transparent decision making, and it requires a process for continuous evaluation and strategic adjustment. I have worked with organizations around the world to help them embrace these concepts, and, if elected, hope to work closely with my fellow council members to do the same for our city.
3. Strong leadership starts with active listening. I plan to make it easier for residents to engage with the city leadership and facilitate more opportunities for the council to listen to residents. It’s important that council members encourage citizen involvement with our actions: from attending events like the community-led farmer’s market to holding public meetings during times convenient to most residents. My primary focus during the first few months will be to give our residents a clearer picture of the city’s short-term and longterm priorities. I’ll work on providing very clear, concise resources that paint the bigger picture of how we plan to address the many wants and needs of our island, and then invite feedback from the community. At present, there is no visibility into the opportunity costs and contingency plans for major proposed projects, specifically the marina referendum. I’d like to make sure that our residents have complete data about proposed plans for our island and how that could impact them in the coming years.
3. The quickest and easiest thing we can accomplish in the first few months is improving transparency. Currently, video or audio of city meetings is promptly put on the city website. This is useful, but most residents do not have the time to listen to a 60-90 minute committee meeting. The minutes need to be written within 3-5 business days and posted on the website. If changes are later made to the minutes (which rarely happens) they can be updated. What can be listened to in 60 minutes can be read in 2 minutes and is much more useful.
3. I have several goals, but ahead of FY19, I want a critical analysis on an important financial question: How much does the city need in reserves to handle a big hurricane? We have a $2.1 million emergency fund plus $5 million in unearmarked dollars readily available in case of disaster. Some suggest we need more reserves to cover hurricane expenses and drops in tourism tax revenue.
The truth is it’s complicated, and we don’t want to tie up funds unnecessarily. Let’s take a comprehensive look, consider the impact of hurricanes on similar communities and factor in our unique circumstances.
3. The Marina Referendum. It’s a big decision this election and either way, the marina needs to be maintained. The city has funds earmarked already if the referendum fails. Yay or nay, we move forward and get the basics done and advance from there.
Drainage. It’s an issue many want resolved immediately, if not sooner. I have seen first hand flooding issues island wide.
Transparency. I’d like to see more city meetings held in the later afternoon/ evening hours. Many residents concerned with island issues have work constraints and cannot attend meetings held in the morning/early afternoon hours.