All seven Myrtle Beach City Council candidates discussed different topics at a forum held less than a week before the election.
Organized by the League of Women Voters of Horry County, the forum took place Wednesday at Chapin Memorial Library and gave each candidate the chance to provide a brief introduction, respond to questions and give closing comments.
Incumbents Mary Jeffcoat, Mike Chestnut and Phil Render are all seeking reelection. Challengers Ed Carey, Charles Gasque, John Krajc and former councilman Wayne Gray also filed to run. Carey and Krajc have unsuccessfully run for city posts in the past — Carey for mayor an Krajc for a council seat.
The first question asked how a candidate would work to resolve the city’s issues with the county, particularly regarding hospitality fee money and roads. Myrtle Beach, which sued the county in March, is currently engaged in a dispute over the hospitality tax.
Gasque said he supports officials meeting to discuss their issues and hashing out their differences.
“That’s basically the only way to solve the problem,” he said.
Another query dealt with how the the city should act as the community faces climate change and sea level rise.
Gray said intergovernmental cooperation will help resolve problems.
“The city has been a leader in establishing setback lines on the oceanfront. In addition to that, one of the things that we need to make sure that we invest in and that we financially manage is the ability to continue to renourish our beaches, which protects our coastline,” he said. “And while we have wonderful natural resources and great amenities, the greatest amenity that we have is that beautiful coastline out there and we need to do everything we can to protect it. It is the lifeblood of our economy and our quality of life.”
Said Krajc: “The worst thing we could possibly do is nothing, which is in a sense what’s being done now.”
He added there are cities on the East Coast actively looking at protective measures.
“Whether it’s sea walls, whether it’s making sure that we move water when it needs to be moved, whether it is beach renourishment projects, these things have to be looked at,” he said. “Inaction is not how we can solve it.”
Another question asked what the city can do to become greener.
Carey said in the time he has lived in the area, he has seen plenty of clearing.
“We have regulations about trees, we have regulations about siltation control. They're not being enforced,” he said. “It has to start now.”
Candidates were also asked how the city can encourage small businesses to thrive as Myrtle Beach continues to see sports tourism.
Jeffcoat said sports tourism in the community is valuable and that officials learned that gaming (video gaming) is too.
“We’re going to go after that,” she said. “And when we get that, the small businesses will continue to thrive.”
She said the owner of a local pancake house told her recently the establishment was thriving because of business due to sports tourism.
“Sports tourism and small business go hand in hand,” she said.
In regard to sports tourism, Krajc said, “We need to find a way to make sure [families who spend money in the city] have some off days while they’re here.”
“Because when they're here, they do benefit the hotels, they do benefit the eateries and restaurants,” he continued. “However, they don’t go to attractions because they don’t have time built into the tournaments. So while these other businesses thrive … folks like Ripley’s, the aquarium and Broadway at the Beach don’t benefit from it because they don’t have time to come and shop.”
Render said the city must diversify its economy.
He noted that most of the top students in his son’s high school class that graduated in 2006 have left for cities elsewhere in the state such as Greenville in search of high-paying jobs.
Carey said he is concerned about the way small businesses are treated.
“You see people picking who can do business in town and who can’t,” he said. “That’s not the role of government. I believe in free market enterprise.”
Chestnut said he feels the city’s redevelopment plans for the downtown area will benefit small businesses.
“Most of our businesses in the city are small businesses,” Gray said.
In order to ensure the small businesses thrive, he added, leaders must make sure the city is safe and secure through public safety, invest in public infrastructure, make sure Myrtle Beach’s tax policies are fair and that “we manage our expenditures and are accountable” and are transparent to taxpayers.
He added I-73 would drive more investment and the local economy as well as create more jobs.
Candidates were asked about bans on single-use plastic bags and smoking on the beach and which measures they support (or don’t support).
Krajc mentioned that Croissants Bistro & Bakery is a good example of a thriving, small business in the city, adding the establishment has compostable bags.
“I think that’s a fantastic idea,” he said.
He said he would support a city ban for single-use plastic bags “unless they are compostable or another method such as that” in addition to barring smoking in public places in the city “for the health of our youth and the folks that live here currently.”
Render said he supports the bans, adding: “I am very alarmed with the vaping issue that’s come about, and I'm in hopes that our state lawmakers will address that. I don’t want those folks in Columbia to be the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration), but there are some serious respiratory issues that are confronting a lot of folks, and I think we've seen just the tip of the iceberg.”
Jeffcoat highlighted during the forum that she is the person on city council who asked for the city to introduce a single-use plastic bag ban.
“The reason I dropped it is this,” she said. “The state of South Carolina is trying to prohibit cities from [instituting] plastic bag bans, and we’ve got to stop them from that. I think the city should go ahead and pass the plastic bag ban and I'm glad to hear everybody’s in favor of that.”
The councilwoman added, “We have got to stop the smoking on the beach, and get those cigarette butts out of our environment.”
Another question sought solutions for traffic and parking issues.
Render said the city council over the last year or so has worked to address parking problems, adding that in that stretch, he hasn’t gotten any complaints from city residents.
“We need to explore really more aggressive ways to handle traffic along our oceanfront because we want the folks to come, but there’s a limited number of spaces and an exponential number of cars,” he said.
Chestnut said that as several visitors continue to come to the beach, the city is going to have to take a “real serious look” at parking decks, particularly in the busy sections of the community.
“I would stay away from the neighborhoods,” he said.
Gasque is in favor of building additional parking garages.
The election will be held Nov. 5.