For the Town of Surfside Beach, election season is just beginning.
On Tuesday night, seven candidates gathered during the first debate before the April 3 election, tackling key subjects including the pier, parking and the role of a town administrator.
Now, Carol Cook, incumbent Tim Courtney, Bruce Deitrich, incumbent David Pelligrino, Debbie Scoles, MaryNell True and Cabell Young are competing for three open town council seats.
Current councilwoman Julie Samples is not running for reelection.
Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to grant the town just over $9.9 million to rebuild the pier that was damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
However, the money will cover plans for a new concrete pier, but not any buildings on it.
"The buildings are where we really have to make the decisions," Pelligrino said. "We're going to have to pay for the buildings, so we're going to have to come up with that money. My recommendation will be that we do three one-story buildings. This would give us a huge long-term opportunity for higher leases."
For Young, the pier would be a destination that would run like a business.
During the debate, most candidates celebrated the pier coming back, but disagreed on how the buildings should be designed.
"I would like to see the pier become the jewel of the town," Cook said. "I would like to see music on the pier, I would like to see little kiosks where you can take your grandchildren and buy them cotton candy. I question putting three buildings that are two story. It's not a matter if you build it they will come, it's where we're going to park."
For many candidates, parking was a major issue for the town.
"I'd like everybody to keep something in mind," Deitrich said. "It's three months out of the year. It's June, July, August. Is it a problem? It's a mess. It's an absolute fiasco sometimes trying to figure out where to park people, but I think that comes along with attracting people to our town. Parking's always going to be an issue."
Ideas, such as building another parking lot in the town, were suggested, but many disagreed on building a parking garage.
The town administrator
The debate over a town administrator has been hotly contested after town council voted to fire former administrator Micki Fellner in January.
A permanent town administrator for the town has not been chosen.
"I feel the town administrator is a liaison from the department heads back to council," Scoles said. "It is her job to run the everyday business of our town and get council involved anytime she has any questions, concerns or needs the support."
However, for many candidates, the reason to run for town council came after council members' actions during the January meeting that led to disagreement among members.
During the debate, candidates harped on the need for respect among members who are there to represent town residents.
"This job should be much easier than it seems to be," True said.
A town candidate forum will be held March 28 from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Oceanfront. The event is sponsored by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and will give residents a chance to meet the candidates.