Surfside Beach mayor, council candidates debate town’s future

Grand Strand

SURFSIDE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – More than half of Surfside’s town council will be replaced in next month’s election, as voters will choose a mayor and three new council members.

More than 100 voters went to the Surfside Beach Candidate Forum at the Holiday Inn Oceanfront on Thursday. Ten candidates spoke in two debates for about 40 minutes. There was a meet-and-greet for residents to talk to the candidates afterwards.

The three mayoral candidates were at the forum. Those candidates are planning commission chair Robert Hellyer, council member David Pellegrino and former council member Julie Samples. Mayor Bob Childs is not seeking re-election.

The three candidates agreed on the importance of rebuilding the pier destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, but differed on the funding behind the project.

“The town’s going to have to come up with some money on its own,” Samples said. “We have added some revenue of late with the stormwater fee and with a millage increase, but I fear that’s not going to be enough.”

Pellegrino says new businesses at what will be the state’s only concrete pier will bring in money for the town.

“That’s where the new revenues are going to come from and we’ve been flat on revenues in Surfside Beach for many years,” he said. “This pier will be the first large increase we’ve had in revenues in some time.”

Hellyer says Surfside must plan for the pier carefully, adding that the project could cost more than the 2017 estimate of roughly $10 million.

“There’s a lot of things that we need to do and a lot of restructuring that we need to do to try to figure out to get our budget under control and to make sure that we have money,” he said. “We really don’t know what the pier’s going to cost us.”

Pellegrino says the town can be more efficient financially.

“We have to still maintain low taxes,” said Pellegrino. “I’ve voted against every tax increase we’ve had and every fee we’ve had because there’s extra money in the budget where we buy wants and not needs.”

Hellyer and Samples say town council, which recently reduced the number of meetings and public speaking time, isn’t listening to people.

“I see that the residents really don’t have any say-so in the town,” Hellyer said. “I’m here to change that and I’m here to roll down the windows, let the air in, unlock the doors and let the residents have some input.”

“I do want to build confidence back in town government,” said Samples. “I think this, when you don’t provide information to people, you allow them the opportunity to create their own narrative.”

Seven of the candidates for three town council seats also spoke at this afternoon’s debate. Those candidates were Jenn Cribb, Michael Drake, Paul Holder, Cindy Keating, Laverne Kreklau, Kathryn Martin and Laurence McKeen.

They’re all vying to replace council members Mark Johnson, Ron Ott and Randle Stevens, who aren’t seeking re-election. Surfside’s council seats are at-large, which means all town voters can pick three council members, instead of voting by district.

Surfside’s elections used to be held in April, but the town recently turned over control of them to Horry County, putting Surfside in line with Election Day, which is Nov. 5.

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