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Surfside Beach election draws a crowd

For candidates running for Surfside Beach Town Council, fiscal responsibilty, transparency and easing safety concerns along U.S.17 North topped the list of issues facing the town.

There are 11 candidates vying for three seats. And with only one incumbent, Doug Samples, running, there will at least be two new faces on the council. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

With a record of questionning the town's financial expenditures, Samples was a big proponent of the town staying within its budget when selecting a design of the new fire station. He has been running on a platform of maintaining the town's quality of life, fiscal responsibilty and transparency, and he was among the council members to vote for putting the town's check register online.

"I have an eight year track record of conducting the people's business in an open, fair, transparent manner - of being available, listening, and responding to the residents of our town," Samples said. "Town government should focus on the basics: public safety, sanitation and keeping our community clean."

Candidate Rebecca Hiatt is no stranger to council. She served on council from 2004 to 2008, when she lost her re-election bid.

Hiatt, a part-time teacher, has also been running on a platform of fiscal responsibility and transparency.

Hiatt said she was worried with "the mayor's attempt to limit the residents' input at the council meetings. They are being pushed to the side without answers to their questions and concerns. They are made to feel they aren't interested in what they have to say."

Candidates Randle Stevens and Ann Dodge have also been vocal in their push for transparency from town hall.

Dodge, who is retired, was one of the founding members of the Concerned Citizens Group of Surfside Beach.

"As Chairman of the Concerned Citizens Group of Surfside Beach, I spoke on various issues important to the group before council," Dodge said. "I didn't seem to get any response and noted that others who spoke before Council did not either. I felt I could actively listen and respond to people. So I decided to try for a council seat."

She has also been pushing for beautification along U.S. 17 North.

This is Rod Smith’s first attempt at elected office, but he has been on the Surfside Beach Planning and Zoning Commission for three years and the Horry County Solid Waste Authority’s board of directors for eight years.

If elected, one issue atop his to-do list is working with the S.C. Department of Transportation on improvements to Business 17 based on the 1999 transportation study.

He also supports Horry County’s proposed expansion of the Surfside Library and plans to work with the county to complete thes project, which he said “will be a major accomplishment for the town.”

“A library is part of what makes a town a town,” Smith said.

He also supports maintaining the structure of the town’s recreation leagues, which currently draw about 30 percent of participants from the town and the rest from players in the rest of the county who pay a slightly higher fee. He noted that the league produced last year’s national Dixie League champions.

Stevens has a history of speaking out, such as when the town council wanted to spend $48,000 on a parking study despite a 2003 version that was on a shelf collecting dust.

"Voters should vote for me because I will represent the people and business of Surfside Beach. I represent no special interest, entity, [political action committee] group or business group," Stevens said.

Samples and candidate Marty Rhoades accepted $1,000 contributions from the Coastal Association of Realtors. The donations were in support of Samples' and Rhoades' current views and platforms, they said during a forum March 28.

Other candidates were concerned about the business climate in Surfside Beach.

Volkswagen Sales Manager Jason Scully is running on a platform calling for fewer restrictions for businesses.

"Make the permit process simpler and more enticing for businesses to choose Surfside," Scully said. "Encourage more input from current businesses so, rather than continuing the current adversarial relationship, we can work together towards a common goal."

Scully has also been the only candidate to publicly denounce the town's smoking ban, which was put in place two years ago. Smoking is prohibited inside bars, restaurants and public spaces like the beach.

"Currently this ban is hurting our businesses because patrons can drive a mile either way and smoke freely," he said.

Scully proposes putting the ban on a referendum and having residents vote on whether or not to continue the ban.

DeFalco's Automotive owner Bill Rempfer said he decided to run because of the town's tough restrictions on businesses.

"The town's many stringent policies for building and homeowner improvements are making it harder for residents and business owners to make any changes," Rempfer said.

One of his catchphrases during his campaign is that Surfside Beach should be run more like a business and not like a homeowners association.

Rempfer said he plans to push for term limits on the mayor and council. He said if he is elected, he will donate his council salary to the town's recreation department and fire department. Rempfer ran in 2008 and lost in a runoff election to Councilwoman Vicki Blair.

Rhoades, a service manager at Myrtle Beach Harley Davidson, opposed the town's moratorium on vendor permits during the May motorcycle rallies.

The Surfside Beach Town Council voted in July 2009 to ban all motorcycle vendor permits for two years, saying they were protecting residents from noise pollution and traffic congestion that come with the rallies. The town generated about $4,500 a year from the motorcycle vendor permits.

He said at a forum Thursday he would not support renewing the moratorium. He also said the town needed to do more to support businesses.

"We need to get town hall and our town's businesses working together," Rhoades said. "By offering incentives, we will encourage more businesses to update their storefronts. Also, we would see many of the empty eyesore buildings filled with new businesses."

Candidates Chad Perrino, E. Shannon Kirk and Scott Anderson did not respond to The Sun News questionnaire.

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