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Surfside Beach residents hear from candidates at forum

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Ten Surfside Beach political candidates weighed in on matters ranging from reconstruction of the town fishing pier to business friendliness at a standing-room-only forum weeks before the Nov. 5 election for three seats on town council and the mayoral position.

Held Thursday at Holiday Inn Oceanfront, the event was sponsored by the Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors and Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and gave townspeople a chance to meet the candidates.

None of the incumbents are seeking reelection, with Mayor Bob Childs and councilmen Randle Stevens, Mark Johnson and Ron Ott choosing not to file.

Town councilman David Pellegrino, former councilwoman Julie Samples and Bob Hellyer, who chairs the town planning commission, are running as mayoral candidates.

Jenn Cribb, Paul Holder, Cindy Keating, Michael Drake, Kathryn Martin, Laverne Kreklau, Laurence McKeen and planning commission member Cody Sluder (the only candidate not at Thursday’s forum) all filed to run for a spot on the town council.

Questions were posed to individual candidates, who also gave brief opening statements; mayoral candidates were given the chance to give closing comments.

Among the topics discussed were the fishing pier project that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agreed to grant the town nearly $10 million for and the entertainment district surrounding the pier. The plan is to reconstruct the pier as concrete.

The current buildings on the pier — a restaurant and a shop — must be torn down because the pier is required by FEMA to be roughly 10 feet higher in elevation. Town council members decided to have three buildings placed on the new pier.

Mayoral candidates

Samples stressed the town must be prudent in its spending, calling its current fiscal health “vulnerable.” She said she is concerned about costs regarding the pier rebuild.

Samples said though the town has been awarded millions in grant funds from FEMA for the pier project, the town has to come up with its own money as well.

She said it is important to consider the quality of businesses and not just quantity, and believes a strict design overlay can be helpful.

Samples is in favor of live streaming town council and other meetings in addition to uploading recordings to the town website and Facebook page.

“It’s 2019,” she said. “This should be easy.”

She also supports the town releasing a monthly bulletin that will include information on ordinances being changed and upcoming decisions and discussions by Surfside Beach leaders.

Additionally, she desires for the pier to act as a “functional entity.”

Pellegrino said while the downtown area is “thriving,” there is a lot of opportunity for the U.S. 17 Business corridor. Enhancements have begun on the federal highway, he said, and those improvements coupled with an overlay can be beneficial. Pellegrino hopes for the town to be more business friendly, and noted the pier will provide a key boost in revenue for the town. The councilman also supports keeping taxes low.

Pellegrino envisions a pier that is a prime destination for visitors with a business district surrounding it that draws people. The town must spend responsibly, he said, adding the town has reserves of funds that can be utilized instead of borrowing money.

Hellyer said if elected mayor, he will make sure to hear from community members and take their input into consideration when making decisions.

He said would likely form committees comprised of citizen volunteers.

“We could easily have a pier committee,” he said.

He also champions evaluating town ordinances currently in effect. Hellyer said he is focused on transparency and putting residents first.

He added that taxes would only be raised as a last resort, and that he is against offshore drilling off the South Carolina coast.

Town council candidates

Keating said town leaders should consider how to go forward in maintaining a nice appearance while not being restrictive for individual property owners. As a resident of the town, she enjoys living near everything one would need and being able to walk to and from the beach.

Cribb said she was displeased with the stormwater fee the town council implemented and that keeping taxes and fees low is crucial.

She does not support having high-rise buildings constructed in the town.

Cribb supports going back to two regular town council meetings per month and giving the public more time to speak. She also endorses a type of hotline or “comments box” for those who wish not to speak during public comment periods.

She said the council’s actions should be disclosed to the public in a clear, concise manner.

When asked about proposed changes brought forth by council on parking, Martin said she supports the proposal of implementing an annual fee for commercial passenger busses.

“I think it’s very smart,” she said.

Martin added she believes some of the parking fees probably need to be raised — though perhaps not as high as what has been proposed — and the changes could bring in additional revenue.

Pointing out there will be a public hearing Oct. 22 before second reading of the ordinance, she hopes the council will listen to residents and make appropriate changes based on residents’ feelings.

She said as a councilwoman she would be accessible to residents and work to respond to any inquiries from citizens.

In addition, she said she would encourage other council members to conduct as much business as possible in front of the public instead of behind closed doors during executive sessions.

Martin said promotion of the town — including as an attractive destination during the offseason — can be improved.

“In the spring and fall when the weather is gorgeous and there are still lots of opportunities to go to the beach or do outdoor things, we have very few tourists,” she said. “I think we can do a much better job at marketing for those seasons.”

Holder said council members should be budget-minded in order to hold the line on taxes and that their actions and spending should be for the right reasons.

He encourages the council acting as a team and discussion at meetings.

“We should be able to talk about what we think and also listen to our counterparts and what they think,” he said.

McKeen said he hopes to bring new ideas and a level of common sense to council, noting it is essential for the council to be diverse.

“I think council needs to be a diverse blend of skills and knowledges,” he said.

He also hopes to expand public comments at the back end of council meetings to five minutes as well as having questions posed by the public answered.

Kreklau said the proper role of a council member is to listen to community members, including second home owners, renters and business owners.

“You should listen to anyone who has a vested interest in the town and take it into consideration,” he said.

He and other candidates voiced their support of live streaming the meetings.

Regarding the “e-district,” Drake said the council must be mindful in making sure the town doesn’t attract the wrong crowd or people with bad intentions.

“You get too much of the wrong, you can have a major problem,” he said.

If elected, his approach will be prioritizing residents first, followed by tourists and, lastly, businesses, which he noted will do well if the townsfolk and visitors are happy.

Drake also wants there to be written communication sent out by the town digitally, informing the community about what’s happening in town government.

Surfside Beach mayoral and town council candidates
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