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2021 Elections: Town of Carolina Beach Council

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Benjamin Schachtman / Town of Carolina Beach / New Hanover County Board of Elections
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WHQR
From Left: Deb LeCompte, Matt Dunn, Joe Benson, Mike Hoffer, Vincent Losito

The Carolina Beach Town Council race has two open seats, with five candidates vying for those spots. Incumbents Steve Shuttleworth and JoDan Garza have decided not to run. WHQR spoke with the candidates about their priorities for the town.

According to the state office of Budget and Management projections, the Town of Carolina Beach could almost double its residents by 2050. And this population growth could further strain issues with infrastructure, traffic, and development.

Joe Benson is the former mayor of Carolina Beach, and he’s back to compete for a town council seat. Part of the reason he said he’s returned is to finish a major stormwater project.

“A couple of the phases were done, the town finished phase B, while I was mayor, over the last couple of years, the infrastructure phases have not resumed, not yet, I know it's on the town manager's priorities, but where I see them in terms of a timeline, I believe they're too far down the road. So I'd like to accelerate those last five major phases of infrastructure, move them closer to the present,” said Benson.

Another candidate who’s also pushing for another type of infrastructure improvement is Deb LeCompte. She’s the current chair of both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Police Advisory Committee. Her focus is on building another water treatment facility — potentially on part of the Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point (MOTSU) property running along the Intracoastal side of Carolina Beach.

“But of course, it involves the military, so it's a little slow-moving. There are talks about putting well 15H out there on MOTSU property, as well as some new storage because the storage that's on Cape Fear Boulevard is well past its useful life, according to our study that was done. So there are concerns about that because the water storage is built in the 50s, so it has reached its maximum life. And we've got to do something within the next five to 10 years to get that replaced,” said LeCompte.

Mike Hoffer is a former Planning and Zoning Commissioner for the town and currently serves as the chair of the Bike and Pedestrian Committee. His main infrastructure goal is to improve bike and pedestrian paths in town.

“The improvements I talk about are not big, high dollar improvements. That's the thing. I'm focusing on safe, logical, smart ways to share the roads that we have, not to build a whole new set of infrastructure, just to improve the infrastructure that's already there. So there's nothing as a Bike and Pedestrian Committee we're advocating for that costs millions of dollars. That's not the case at all,” said Hoffer.

For example, Hoffer said he’s looking forward to the grant-funded and planned multi-use path along St. Joseph Street.

In addition to these traffic improvements, many of the candidates said they are committed to improving parking around the town.

Vincent Losito’s background is in corporate finance, and he serves as the Chief Financial Officer for the Carolina Beach Mural Project. He said the revenue that comes from parking will serve as an important resource for other projects around town. And the town is shopping for another company to oversee parking.

“So I'd like us to do, and I hate to say, like Wrightsville Beach, but the next parking vendor that we should come to us with a revenue-sharing idea. If they can find us more parking revenue, then their fee will be based on a percentage of the revenue that we get. So to the extent, the town gets more revenue, they get more revenue. I think that's what we need to look for next parking vendor,” said Losito.

Candidate Joe Benson said he wants to redesign some of the town’s streets to provide more parking spots.

“And then I've got a couple of other thoughts on parking that involve taking a two-lane street making it one lane, making one side of that paid parking. Taken in total, if you can increase town parking by 200, 250 spots, that's about another $250,000 in revenue up to that, that $250,000 goes a long way towards paying down the debt, whether it's municipal bonds or low-interest loans.”

As for other ideas for generating funding for local projects, candidate Deb LeCompte said she wants the town to apply for more grants.

“We do have a new grant writer who's just come on board in Carolina Beach, and I think we need to look to that grant writer to help us find some basic funding; there are all kinds of urban renewal grants out there, anything that has to do with handicap accessible, those kinds of things,” said LeCompte.

From the town’s current budget documents, its main revenue streams are property taxes, parking fees, sales taxes, and solid waste fees. In addition, room occupancy taxes, a tax that visitors pay when they stay in hotels, for example, generate close to $740,000 for the town. Candidate Vincent Losito said he wants to work with regional partners to have more control over this tax benefit.

“We need to lobby the county and the state to change how the room occupancy taxes are allocated. Let us decide how we want to spend that money. We don't need to spend a million dollars a year advertising Carolina Beach. It speaks for itself. That money could go a long way towards helping with beach renourishment or North End flooding,” said Losito

Matt Dunn is also a candidate for a council seat. He said he’s getting into the race to turn the town’s focus to better serve families. He said he’s also concerned about the way in which town staff and representatives communicate with constituents.

“One of the things that I believe the town has done a poor job of is communicating to residents, okay. If you go to council meetings, or if you're on a committee, or if you're basically on staff for the Town of Carolina Beach, you might know things the residents don't know you. I think people take that for granted,” said Dunn.

Dunn said the council could potentially host more town hall meetings at the local elementary school, for example. He said he wants to see this relationship grow -- between the town and the school -- because Hurricane Florence and the pandemic have been stressors.

“So we had a situation where priorities may have shifted town, leadership there, just things, in general, drifted away from focusing on the families, but we really can't call ourselves a family community if we don't act like one. I feel like it's really important that we have our town leadership connect with our school, even the state park to the point where we have all of our public service institutions basically communicating on a regular basis and operating like a well-oiled machine,” said Dunn.

Candidate Mike Hoffer also said he wants to change the way in which the council operates out in the community. He said he wants residents to know and understand which council member is responsible for which project.

“People on council need to pick one or two items, and really take responsibility for them. And I think that's a big part of the reason why things aren't being accomplished, there's kind of a vague sense of group responsibility for everything. And nothing really happens. And because group responsibility often means zero accountability,” said Hoffer.

One-stop or early voting is underway until October 30th. Election Day is November 2nd. You can find more information on municipal voting in New Hanover County at elections.nhcgov.com.

Below are the full interviews with each of the candidates:

Interview with Joe Benson
Interview with Matt Dunn
Interview with Mike Hoffer
Interview with Deb LeCompte
Interview with Vincent Losito