By ABBEY KUNKLE
Special to the PRESS
- Where are you from?
We are originally from San Antonio. We purchased our first home on the Island in 2005 and have lived here part-time for almost 10 years. In April 2014 we made the permanent move to the Island. I still have some board of director responsibilities in San Antonio, so we maintain an apartment there. But, South Padre Island is now our permanent home.
- What are your hobbies?
I play golf and also thoroughly enjoy bay fishing. Some may not consider it a hobby, but I read extensively as well.
- How do you balance personal life with your busy job?
With a great administrative assistant and a computerized calendar. I am officially semi-retired. My wife Anna has always been very supportive of my activities and the busy schedule. So it reduces stress in our personal lives — she likes to say she just “goes with the flow.” However, she has provided that woman’s intuition and insight for many years. Many of “my” best business decisions were inspired by her.
- How did you become interested in politics, and can you tell me a little bit about how you got to where you are today/ What inspired you to run for Councilman?
We have always been involved somewhat in politics with the support of various candidates and causes over the years. Coming from the pet industry, we’ve always been pretty passionate about animals. I became intrigued by the politics of South Padre Island and the activities of the City Council. South Padre Island is really a small town with less than 3,000 registered voters. At any one time there are obviously thousands more temporary visitors here than residents – so, we share our Island with them.
After retiring from the day-to-day operations of my business, I thought that some of the business experience may be applicable to city government. That has proven to be true. Just after our current mayor, Barry Patel decided to resign his Place 1 Council Seat to run for mayor, I attended a meeting with Barry and other local leaders. Barry laid out his visionary plans for future Island leadership. I agreed with much of his vision. Following his presentation, he asked me to consider running for his vacated seat in Place 1. I thought about it, discussed it with my wife, got her blessing and encouragement, and decided to do it.
- What is the City’s most difficult issue right now? What is the City’s most pressing issue? What are some plans for improvement?
There is more than just one difficult or pressing issue right now. The new City Council has been in place for about three months. We’ve tackled many issues. As I came to office, I was committed to public safety, better sidewalks, safe biking lanes, and restoring the Island with responsible growth. The City Council has made significant progress on sidewalks, biking lines, and safety issues. I am also encouraged by multiple new planned business openings and planned business relocations.
We have numerous other opportunities. Two of the largest opportunities are the arrival of SpaceX and their many employees as well as the University of Texas-RGV with their 1,000 well-compensated employees and families that are coming to the area.
- What is your personal agenda of issues you would like to resolve? How and when do you plan to accomplish these goals?
In addition to the previously discussed items, we have made some progress on providing a safer Gulf Boulevard. We need to complete the revamping of Gulf Boulevard over the next three years. This includes a safer, more bike and pedestrian friendly street. We also have to work with the General Land Office to solve some thorny parking issues. The city of South Padre Island has some of the lowest taxes in the state. So, we have to work within the resources we have to accomplish all of our goals. I would also like to see Padre Boulevard finished with concrete sidewalks and conforming to our Form Based Code. I feel that the Form Based Code needs to be updated, enhanced, and carefully explained to all potential new development candidates.
On another subject, we need to make sure that our city is run very efficiently and that we completely understand that the City Council and employees are serving the citizens of South Padre Island. We need to make it easier to do business here. Also, everyone on city staff needs an understanding that our jobs depend upon, and are paid by the taxpayers. Let’s serve our constituents effectively.
- Any ideas for increasing citizen participation?
I love the atmosphere at City Hall for our council meetings. We came into office with heightened expectations, and are trying to deliver. I enjoy the input of the many citizens who contribute in our meetings. I also enjoy listening to citizen issues, complaints, and complements. I would encourage any taxpayer to attend a City Council meeting to see their tax dollars at work.
- How do you plan to increase business interest and development in the city?
We first need to make sure that we are a very welcoming city. When a potential developer or current business comes to us with an interest in building, opening or expanding a business, we should welcome their interest and do everything we can to attract and retain them on the Island. We have some wind at our backs — with the arrival of SpaceX and UTRGV, things are looking up.
Our mayor was instrumental in getting the TIRZ agreement with Cameron County. This reinvestment zone agreement allows us to use some of the county’s revenue on the increased value of investments back into the island. This is significant. It will probably be in the $10-15 million range.
- Any ideas for further increasing city revenue?
No matter where you live, a common complaint from all citizens is that “taxes are too high.” I’ve encouraged many citizens to look closely at their SPI city portion of their tax bill. When doing so, you will find that your city taxes are actually quite low. In fact they are among the lowest city taxes anywhere in the state of Texas. For many years as a private businessman, I had to make choices about investments in our business. In those days I was buying warehouses, technology, trucks, forklifts, racks, etc. Today, the focus is on sidewalks, streets, and other infrastructure investments for our city.
I think the TIRZ tax rebates will be helpful. We will also have some growth from increases in property tax values. South Padre Island is our permanent home. We own various residential and commercial properties on the Island. Personally, I would be prepared to pay slightly higher city taxes. I would only vote to pay more taxes if I was sure that the funds are being spent wisely and efficiently by our city government.
- What do you hope to accomplish for the city specifically in the coming year?
A safer city that is more walkable, bike-friendly, and reenergized. The new City Council has already made progress on sidewalks and streets. Additionally, we need to work closely with Cameron County on developing the opportunities that SpaceX and UTRGV bring to the area. I also want to make sure that our city government is responsive to citizens and run efficiently.
- What is your long term goal, and what kind of legacy would you like to leave in the community?
South Padre Island is now our permanent home. We want to live in a safe, well-maintained city that we can be very proud to call home. Long after my political career is over, I would hope that I’ve made a positive difference for our citizens.
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