Candidate Interview: LeAnn Pierce, Town of Carolina Beach mayoral candidate [Free read]Candidate…

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CAROLINA BEACH — The Town of Carolina Beach has several candidates running for multiple positions including Mayor as well as Town Councilmembers.

Port City Daily has emailed all of the candidates a list of the same questions and will be publishing their answers throughout the week. Answers are unedited except for formatting.

There are four candidates running for mayor — a position that will be vacated by Joe Benson who is not running for reelection.

There are two spots on Town Council up for grabs with five candidates.

Why do you want to be mayor/town council member?

I love our town and its citizens! I settled in Carolina Beach almost 30 years ago, started a business and raised my children here. I have seen many changes over those years. As the next Mayor, I bring experience of state and local government and a vision that leads Carolina Beach to be the community we all deserve. I will unite the community, council, and staff for the betterment of our town.

I have served on council for the past six years and four of them as Mayor Pro Tem. As Mayor, I will continue to build on the relationships with our county, state, and federal partners. I want Carolina Beach to be a place where all people are proud to live and work. When I retire in Carolina Beach, I want to know that I did my part to make it the best it can be. I am ready on day one to lead us into the future.

What are your priorities for Carolina Beach, what do you think needs to be addressed and what do you think the town currently does well?

The next phase in Carolina Beach will be managing growth, parking, water quality and quantity, environmental preservation, stormwater mitigation, Freeman Park, attracting families and activities for our children. I would also like to see a beautification project in Carolina Beach and elimination of single-use plastics. I will address Freeman Park, parking and growth in your questions below.

We are in the process of a water quality study. We are currently close to build out with only 600 residential lots and very few commercial properties still available. We are looking for information on capacity and how much water we will need at buildout. We know we need to build a 3M gallon water storage facility in the near future. This study will be vital information to address our water and infrastructure needs which also relates back to how much can we and should grow.

Environmental preservation is something every community especially a coastal community has a duty to protect. The love of our beautiful waterways, ocean and all the creatures that inhabit it is one of the reasons this island is so attractive and peaceful. It is our duty as honorable citizens to protect the environment because it cannot do it for itself.

Stormwater is an issue for an island particularly on Canal Dr. We are currently replacing all 18 valves at street ends with a new more improved valve system. This should increase blockage by 30%. We are also in the process of investigating a possible bulkhead ordinance. Many of the properties on Canal do not have bulkheads and the water flows over those properties into the street. There are also other option such as living shorelines being looked into. The water further deteriorates the street which badly needs paving. We need to fix the problem or the new paving will also deteriorate.    

I believe the town does a lot of things well. One is our beach renourishment project. We have successfully continued to put sand on our beaches even after our 50-year contract expired. We are currently in the process of extending that another 15 years. All other beach towns are looking at Carolina Beach and how we handle this because ours was the first to expire. To date, we have paid for this with federal, state and county money collected from room occupancy tax. The town has not had to pay although we do save for the time when we may need to pay. Second, we have also successfully kept our inlet open and now have a routine schedule of once a quarter. This is essential to our economy and our fishing industry. Third, we have increased crosswalk safety by partnering with NCDOT and making this a priority.

We have opened the 1.2 mile Island Greenway, completed the multiuse path on Cape Fear and have been approved for bike lanes on St. Joseph St. Fourth, we have replaced failing infrastructure that was 50 years old and at its life with new updated piping and infrastructure. Finally, we have a wooden boardwalk and extension that is ranked in the top ten in the country, we have addressed opioid treatment for our residents, we have increased the lake capacity by 6M gallons, we have a new Publix shopping center replacing a blighted one and finally we are a community that bounces back from anything thrown at us. Carolina Beach does a lot of things well!

How would you like to see the issues at Freeman Park solved? (Erosion, overcrowding, land disputes with private owners)

Freeman Park is a dynamic coastal environment and only mother nature controls the erosion. We have asked our Freeman Park Committee to make suggestions to council for the upcoming season and have scheduled a workshop to address this topic. We are not certain if the pinch point will become safe again for vehicle traffic but it is a public trust beach where foot traffic is always allowed. Public safety is our first concern and it always will be.

Freeman Park is a jewel that very few communities can experience. It is 380 acres of pristine coastal lands. I would like to see kayak launches, wildlife tours and living classrooms added to the park. Maybe a partnership with UNCW known for its marine biology programs could accomplish this. Land disputes will work itself out over time. I am only one person on council but I believe in cooperation and respect of all parties. As Mayor, I would change disputes to working relationships and compromise.  

Parking rates and other costs like passes to the park have steadily risen to account for increased spending by the town, do you think it is fair to pass these costs to visitors that the town relies on to survive instead of raising taxes for residents? Would you like to see parking fees decreased?

I would not say they have risen to account for increased spending by the town. I would say they have increased because of the simple business of supply and demand and cost of living increases. Nothing stays the same and they are user fees. I don’t believe a resident who doesn’t use these amenities should have to pay for them so I would not raise taxes for this use. A person can walk or bike anywhere in Carolina Beach and never go to Freeman Park. The user fee addresses this issue and yes I do think it’s fair to pass that cost along to the visitor. That is why we have room occupancy tax and user fees to help pay for the impact of tourism on our infrastructure. This is common in any tourist community.

Speaking of parking, what are your plans to help solve parking woes? Would you consider a parking deck a viable option?

We have asked our parking company to audit all lots to accommodate more golf parking and off-street parking. We are also reconfiguring parking at public accesses. By doing this, we should gain more spaces and become more efficient.

We need to acquire more land for surface parking that the town owns because we cannot depend on leasing property for our parking needs. We also need to look into a transportation system from a more centralized location. I believe we are at capacity for 8 weeks a year on the weekends. With that said, I am not in favor of a parking deck and truthfully, we can’t afford it either. I will say that we may need to entertain a public/private partnership to meet our future parking needs.

With the firing of two town managers in a year, what qualities would you look for in a new manager? How could these issues be avoided in the future?

Actually, we have had three town managers in 11 years. The first two served common time frames of 5-6 years each and the last much shorter. The number one job of a town manager is to be the budget officer. Next, he is responsible for managing staff and projects. I am looking for someone with strong budget skills, project management skills and the ability to build a productive staff. Vetting the next manager will be vital to our next choice. With the possibility of a new council member coming on board in November, their thoughts and ideas will be crucial.

How would you balance moving the town forward in terms of economy and new business/condos/homes and maintaining the ‘small town’ vibe of Carolina Beach?

ROT [room occupancy tax] numbers are up 15% from last year at this time which is an indicator of a strong economy. We must monitor building heights in our town to keep us quaint and attractive. Our zoning ordinances and building codes will accomplish this. We must create open space and help preserve the history of our community. This is a tough balance of a large beach town like Carolina Beach but it can be done. We have just reactivated and appointed members to the Business and Economic Development Committee which I am the liaison.

I served on this committee in 2007 before the council. We will research how to attract family-friendly businesses to Carolina Beach and business incentives. I want Carolina Beach to have a strong economy while remaining a place to raise our families. I believe in creating activities that support the family unit and give our children safe and fun experiences.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about you or your hopes for Carolina Beach?

I want Carolina Beach to be a place where families, retirees, and visitors can all coexist while protecting our beaches and wildlife. I know this sounds like a tough job and it is. Our challenges are ever-changing. I understand business, I understand government and I understand family. We need experienced leadership at the helm, open-mindedness and communication with our citizens to succeed. If the people of Carolina Beach will have me as their next Mayor, I will use that experience to lead us into the future.

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