By Pamela Cody
Special to the PRESS
The four candidates running for City Council on SPI appeared at a forum, hosted by the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce, at the South Padre Island Convention Center Monday, October 7, to answer questions on pertinent topics before a live audience.
Running for re-election are Ken Medders and Kerry Schwartz, with opponents Beverly Skloss and Brandy Buntin competing to take their seats on the SPI City Council. Each had limited time to answer the same questions posed to each person.
Eight questions were posed by moderator Kathy Cunningham. The topics were the following: stimulating economic growth and a year-round economy; the RGV reef project; city staffing and compensation levels; ordinance changes to encourage new businesses; establishing medical services and facilities on the Island; representing the interests of SPI with county, state, and federal leaders; improving spring break, and lastly, the liquefied natural gas facilities proposed at the Port of Brownsville.
The four candidates opening statements all ran with a similar theme – the health and safety of the residents of SPI, quality of life, community service, working together. When it came to the first question, however, the candidates responses were varied.
On the subject of economic growth/stimulating the economy, Brandy Buntin said in his remarks, “We need to fix the problem with the air travel down to the area. You want to promote people to come down here? Look at air travel. Drop the air ticket prices so they want to come here instead of going to Cancun.”
Ken Medders response included “Advertising – when you see that 65 – 68% of folks that visit our Island are within driving distance, and we’re not doing a lot of heavy advertising in that area. It’s questionable.”
Kerry Schwartz responded saying in part “We need to complete our venue tax projects. That venue tax was passed in 2016. We need to get the projects that you dictated completed.”
Beverly Skloss said in her comments “I like the idea of cruise ships coming in as a port of call, it does stimulate the economy, I’ve seen it in many areas that I’ve traveled to. I also think the idea of stimulating our economy could be done by an aquarium.”
In discussing changes that need to be made to ordinances and at City Hall to make it less complicated to open and operate a business on the Island, Skloss said “There’s approximately 35 closed businesses and storefronts on this Island. That’s a lot of businesses that have come and gone. We need to see what we can do to help streamline new businesses on the island.”
Buntin replied with “There’s some questions about the form-based code, and how it’s going to be translated for the city. For new businesses coming in, I think the city should have that nailed down. ”
Medders noted “Two meetings ago I placed an item on the agenda to establish an ad hoc committee to review all ordinances and fees. That committee is being put together as we speak.”
Schwartz said “All of us know we have a seasonal economy. We’re trying to improve and fill in the shoulder months, but you’ll never get October through February to equal what the summer brings us.”
Regarding spring break, a little comic relief was brought by Brandy Buntin, who quipped “What we need to do with spring break is encourage our Winter Texans to stay an extra month,” drawing laughs from the audience.
Schwartz replied “It’s hard to market the Island and bring families to the Island that have kids because we’re so weather dependent. March is a cold month usually. The other problem is room rates and hotel rates are sky-high. A family can elect to go elsewhere.”
Skloss mused, “I don’t know that we’ll ever see what we used to see from the colleges, because they can go other places a lot cheaper.”
Medders noted “Spring break does constitute about $30.5 million dollars, of which about $900,000 goes back into the city coffers. Find a way to replace that and I think you can do away with spring break.”
Regarding the hot-button topic of the possibility of liquefied natural gas facilities being built at the Port of Brownsville, the candidates opinions ranged from resignation to fight it to the bitter end.
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