By Laura Fogarty, Island Eye News Managing Editor
Thanks to a wonderful response from our readers, we are happy to be able to present the questions we asked the five candidates vying for seats on the Isle of Palms City Council. Below are the second three in a series of six questions (compiled to represent the most citizens’ input as possible). The candidates’ answers are reprinted unedited and in their entirety. To see the first three questions visit islandeyenews.com.
- Are you in favor or opposed to the following ordinances:
- a) New Standards for Dilapidated Structures and b) Ban on Smoking at the Beach?
- Are you in favor of the parallel parking only rule on Palm Blvd. between 22nd and 40th Ave or would like to see the return of perpendicular parking only on the non-beach side between 22nd and 40th Avenues?
- How is the City doing financially? How would you propose to amend the budget to make the City more fiscally responsible, if necessary?
- a. I am for working on a reasonable approach to new standards for dilapidated structures on the island, the key phrase being “a reasonable approach”. It is important to protect neighbors’ properties from nuisance properties. The ordinance must be crafted very carefully. However, I am strongly against any ordinance that is remotely similar to a HOA. I do not want a HOA.
- This is a very divisive issue. I would prefer city council work on projects that bring us together such as drainage, the marina restaurant and addressing other infrastructure issues rather than issues that tear us apart. I am not in favor of another ban that is unenforceable. We already have a law against littering.
- The current parking plan along Palm Blvd seems to be working fairly well so I would like to keep in place for at least another beach season. However, I am always open to looking at changes to our parking plan that is in the best interests of our residents.
- The City is doing well financially. We recently approved the budget with no millage increase (no property tax increase) for this year. The fiscal year ending June 30, 2019 audit will be starting soon. I will not be sure of the exact numbers until the audit is complete (audit report is usually issued in late fall) but it appears the City will enjoy a material surplus (revenues were greater than expenses) in the general fund. Some reasons for this prediction are a) on the expense side, the City was understaffed for most of the year, some capital projects were deferred into later years b) on the revenue side, the City increased rental license, building permit fees. Municipal parking lot fees were also raised. Tourism fund revenues (municipal and state A taxes, hospitality taxes and beach restoration revenues all increased. In the future city council must continue to diligently work on the budget, particularly watching expenses, to ensure taxpayers are provided with great city services at the best possible price. Until last year the city did not have a line item in the budget for deferred maintenance on city owned fixed assets. Now we set aside 1% of the insured value of those assets each year for deferred maintenance. This past year the City’s ways and means committee set aside about $153,000, next year this number will be significantly higher since the Public Safety Building on JC Long Blvd. will be undergoing extensive renovations this year, therefore that asset is not included in the calculation but will be next year. I would like to see the City continue to contribute more money to the disaster recovery fund. I served on city council from 1988-’91 (Hurricane Hugo). I believe in saving for future disaster recovery efforts we hope will never come. I am a Certified Public Accountant licensed in South Carolina (SC Board of Accountancy certificate number 2800, issued March 19, 1987) and currently serve as chairman of the City’s ways and means committee.
- a. Over the past year, I have attended many Committee meetings and Council meetings. I never came away with the idea that our current Council wants to impose stringent guidelines that infringe on property owner rights. That being stated, we don’t want, or need a Homeowners Association in place on the Isle of Palms, but I do think homeowners should be expected to keep their homes and yards in a safe condition. Before I would vote in support of any ordinance regarding “Dilapidated Structures,” I would like to review the issue(s) with our Building and Planning Director, and speak with citizens concerned with this issue. I would also like to study any proposals and recommendations made by the Real Property Committee.
- First, I would state let’s enforce our current litter laws on the beach. One way to do that is to allow the Beach Service Officers to write tickets for any infraction. It’s also very difficult to enforce littering offenses unless the officer sees the infraction firsthand. In regards to smoking, the only beach in S.C. that has banned smoking is Surfside Beach where there is a civil penalty with warnings to offenders, or nominal fines of $10-25 per offense. Sullivan’s Island is currently discussing a ban on smoking in public places, and the beach, in an attempt to curb littering and pollution. On this particular issue for the Isle,I would like to see the recommendations coming out of Committee as to what this entails for the Isle of Palms , and how it would be enforced. All of us certainly want cleaner air, water, and a cleaner beach . Our goal as residents of this beautiful “Paradise” is to expect our visitors and citizens to leave nothing but footprints on the beach as they leave.
- Yes, I think this has been a real positive overall for Palm Blvd. There is less traffic, resulting in less litter, and I have witnessed firsthand that it has created a significantly safer environment for our beach visitors and residents. We provide plenty of parking for visitors on the Isle when you consider Palm Blvd., the Public Parking Lots, the County Park , and the Breach Inlet lot., and as a result, I don’t think it is necessary, or safe to return to perpendicular parking on Palm between 22nd Ave and 40th Ave. I would also like to see us more effectively address the parallel parking near driveways on Palm. It’s often very difficult for occupants of those homes, and their guests, to exit a driveway safely during the high tourist season. I would be interested in considering a plan to have no parking on both sides of Palm a reasonable distance from driveway entrances similar to the distances which must be provided at street entrances.
- I think the current council and city administration is on the right track to have more accountability and responsibility to sound, fiscally responsible budgeting, as evidenced by the work they put in for the 2019 budget, and the framework they’ve put in place for future budgeting. It’s a good first step, and the focus must stay on improving the process with future Council. To that extent, I also believe we need to amend our spending practices to have more budget accountability with each specific department head, and also find more ways to generate more General Fund Revenue sources which we can spend on our high priority capital projects. We can’t afford to depend on ATAX dollars to fund our coffers since we’re limited as to how we can utilize those funds. If we have a devastating storm or other catastrophic event, like Hurricane Hugo, those dollars go away until we rebuild our infrastructure and amenities. Lastly, but most importantly, the Council & City Administration, along with citizen input and feedback, need to collaborate and develop a long term “Strategic Plan” to deal with our high priority items, and any other major issues that may arise in the future.
- a. I would support an ordinance for dilapidated structures including fences, pools and yards, however the devil will be in the details. The ordinance will have to have clear cut standards that would define and establish violations. It would need to define enforcement, processes, fines and remedies. How do we monitor? Do we hire a enforcement officer/person? The proposed ordinance suggested that our city inspector handle these duties. While a option, we need to remember he is quite busy with building inspections and plan reviews. Also the current proposed ordinance requires the owner 24 hours to remedy, depending upon the issue, is this may not be enough time? I worry about the town’s liability upon entering someone’s property to remedy the issue if the owner won’t. How does the town recoup the expense of the repair? Filing a lien on the property could sit on the books for years. We need to careful, since creating an ordinance like this, could start the town down a slippery slope. I will oppose and would vote against any idea of trying to establish an HOA (Home Owners Association) on the island.
- I have never smoked; I deal with allergies that are sensitive to smoke, even on clothes and cars that smell like smoke, however at this point I could not support a ban. If elected, I would recommend that Council continue the discussion, since I’m sure this will be an explosive and divisive issue. I would recommend that Council take its time to engage our residents for their input and perhaps hold focus groups or establish an ad hoc committee to bring a recommendation to planning commission and Council. How would this ban affect our businesses on the beach? The current proposed ordinance states “on all city owned property” which would include the marina. Is this a smoke issue or a litter issue? If a litter issue, we have laws so let’s try to find a way to enforce.
- I support and would vote to continue parallel parking on both sides of Palm from 22th to 40th. This helps limit parking opportunities along Palm. It also decreases the amount of cars that our residents on Palm have to deal with. I also feel that the parallel parking helps with parked visitors accessing back onto Palm, which would help with less traffic interruptions. In addition, this allows more room in the Right of Way on the non- beach side of Palm and for our parking officers to safely do their job. I have also noticed that families are letting their children out and gathering their things on that side as well.
- I’m a fiscal conservative and for all my years in business, the budget and corporate goals were the number one priority, I feel it’s even more important now since we are spending our residents’ tax dollars. We must create, manage and beat our budget each and every year. By accumulating surpluses it allows us to build reserves to help fund current and future capital improvements, repairs, maintenance, etc. I will be the first to admit that it will take some time to do a deep dive and become familiar with all the moving parts within our city’s budget. With an accounting degree and years of business practice, I’m confident I can provide input quickly. After reviewing the budget, I believe our current council is doing a great job watching our money. It appears that if the FY 19 forecast holds, we will have a surplus of $800,000+. Tourist related funds have been trending up, which means more revenue and with the current market conditions, I believe this trend will continue. While visitors may be a double edged sword, they are our weekly renters- Accommodations Tax money and go to restaurants-Hospitality Tax money; we even pocket some monies from people parking illegally! Also important is that these visitors spend money at many of our island businesses. I promise that the budget will be a priority, with constant monitoring. We must always look at ways to cut expenses as long as it doesn’t affect the efficiency of our departments.
- a. I am opposed to the current proposed version of new standards for dilapidated structures. I am, however, in favor of ordinances that allow all homeowners the right and privilege to own and maintain their property in a manner that is safe, hazard free and in habitable condition and creates an environment where their neighbor does the same.
- I am opposed to a ban on smoking on the beach. I would prefer to see us more diligently enforce our litter laws to address what I believe to be at the heart of the issue. I’m not a smoker and prefer not to be around 2nd hand smoke but the enforcement of this ordinance would seem to be very difficult and intrusive.
- Yes, I am in favor of parallel parking on this section of Palm. Anything we can do to better reduce the density on our island is better for our residents. Reducing congestion of island visitors has been working: parallel parking on Palm is a positive step. Also, I would be opposed to any zoning changes, such as the boutique hotel being considered on Palm Blvd., that would increase traffic congestion and do nothing to maintain the island’s residential focus which has been an overriding goal of our City.
- At the highest level, the city is in decent shape financially as it relates to day to day activities. However, once you spend time reviewing our finances in more detail, you notice a large dependence on accommodation tax revenue and an expense growth that is not sustainable at current levels of revenue. Also, there are many large expenditure projects the City is not able to initiate due to the sources and amount of our revenue (e.g. accommodation tax revenue can only be used for tourism related expense items). The City can be more fiscally responsible by reviewing all areas of revenue to ensure we are receiving all we are due and perform a fresh review of all spending and staffing levels to ensure we are meeting the needs of our residents and visitors. Emphasis should be placed on obtaining additional revenue through both public and private grants to cover a portion of the costs for our infrastructure needs such as drainage.
- a. Before I get into how I feel about both of these issues, there is something bigger at stake that I am passionate about changing: transparency. As a small city government, we have the duty to utilize modern technology to duly notify the public when important issues are being discussed. I have noticed that many of our residents are feeling blind sided when important, relevant issues like these go into second reading and pass as law before they even knew it was being considered. It is so important to get this information out to our residents quickly so that they have an opportunity to give Council their opinions and feelings. I believe that we need to preserve the character of the island and allow as much freedom for personal property as possible. This is not a big neighborhood developed by some large investment firm; this island is organic and, as much as I don’t love seeing the few eyesores, I am not in favor of the blight ordinance, as written.
- I have many feelings about the smoking on the beach ban. Though I value our personal freedoms and deregulation, I believe that the ban is the necessary step in keeping our beaches clean, our air pure for our children and our image beautified. As the co-founder of the IOP Cleanup Crew, I truly had no idea the extent of which cigarette butts are littered on our beautiful coastline until we began tracking the litter we found on the beach- cigarettes are the number one littered item on earth. Also, we absolutely need to instate an island-wide anti-litter campaign with creative signage and enforcement and lead our coastal neighbors to a cleaner ocean.
- I do not support perpendicular parking on either side of Palm Blvd. for safety reasons first. It simply is not safe during the busy summer months to have people backing in and out on a busy street with people walking and crossing everywhere, especially children. Also, I think that we need to pass on small impact fees to non-residents parking on the island, whether that’s an inexpensive seasonal pass or another non-metered innovation. It would give beach-goers invested interest in caring for our beach and also give us additional revenue to better protect our most treasured resource.
- I believe that the island, with all of its assets and resources, should never have an excuse to not be financially healthy. We need to utilize our assets by writing leases that are profitable, utilize franchise fees when appropriate, and rethink the way we jump to hire expensive consulting firms. I think that we could use our A-tax more efficiently and tangibility than we currently are.