Island Gazette Candidate's Corner: Joe Benson For Carolina Beach Council

Island Gazette Candidate's Corner: Joe Benson For Carolina Beach Council

Island Gazette Candidate's Corner: Joe Benson For Carolina Beach Council Featured

By / Local News / Tuesday, 26 October 2021 18:54

If you are elected on to council, what will be the first thing you do?

Establish a quorum on Council directing the Town Manager and Finance officer to provide Council with options (e.g. competitive bond issuance, low-interest State loans) on funding the remaining 4 phases of infrastructure, which includes the North End Water and Wastewater project, as well as increasing water capacity and its relocation to our leased property in the Buffer Zone. Fixing the town’s crumbling infrastructure needs to be the priority. Not to mention, with a total price tag around $40 million, securing the funds at today’s low interest rates, rates which are sure to rise, will reduce the Town’s long-term debt. 

Do you feel like Carolina Beach Town Staff is working effectively? 

Generally speaking, I do believe that Town staff is working effectively. We have an outstanding Town Manager at the helm. Credit goes to the sitting Council for bringing Bruce Oakley on board. Bruce has very talented and experienced department heads overseeing the efforts of hard-working men and women, many of whom we see out across. All of them love the town they serve. 

However, there are process changes that need to made. Two come to mind: the permitting process and work orders. First, the permit approval process is too slow. Over the past 3 months, I’ve heard this concern from several residents. Second, there’s confusion associated with the submission of work orders. Residents have complained to me about their calls not being returned when calling to check the status of their work order. In both cases, I believe automation can help. From permit application to approval, a shorter timeline with preset deadlines for each reviewing authority must be established. Electronic notifications with a deadline for review completion will alert those involved in the application process. Before leaving the Planning Department or hitting submit on the Town website, the applicant should know the date when the permit will be approved.

The status of submitted work orders should be discoverable on the Town website and depicted in a ‘stop-light’ fashion. The work order will be marked on a map of CB. Here again technology and automation come in to play. Following submission via either phone or City Works, workers in the field acknowledge receipt of the work order with a click on their tablet. Until actions have been taken on the work order, the work order, depicted by a circle, is red. As soon as work begins, the status switches to yellow. Comments on the work being done and an estimation of completion can be found by moving the cursor over the circle. Finally, the circle switches to green upon completion. 

As a former Mayor, what do you bring back to the table as already serving on council?

 Having previously served on Council, I was fortunate to routinely work with Federal, State and County agencies on large projects which benefitted Carolina Beach. One example is partnering with the County and US Army Corps of Engineers on a very successful beach renourishment, which took place February and March of 2019. Serving on the executive committee of the Joint Land Use Study (JLUS), which involved the Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point (US Army), surrounding municipalities and other State and County agencies, is another example. The end result of the JLUS were expanded permissions to use our leased property in the Buffer Zone for future infrastructure projects and recreation activities. Alongside the CB Inlet Association, working with the US Coast Guard in Spring of 2019 proved critical in keeping the inlet open for commercial and recreational interests as well as access to the open ocean for rescue and recovery. If elected onto Council, I bring the experience of working with multiple agencies on several projects, the results of which proved fruitful for CB. 

I asked both Mayoral candidates this in a different form, what was your biggest disappointment made by standing council?

The sitting Council did a lot of good for the community in spite of the challenges associated with a pandemic. If anything stands out in terms of a disappointment, it would be the fiscal year 2021-2022 tax rate, which came on the heels of an average property reappraisal increase of 34%. Council lowered the tax rate to 21.5 cents per $100 of appraised value, representing a substantial 21% tax increase. If on Council at the time, I would have asked for a list of expenses totaling ~$950,000 to be considered for budget cuts in order to establish a revenue-neutral tax rate of just over 17 cents. However, I wasn’t privy to all the constraints that the Town Manager and Council faced as they entered budget season.            

As former Mayor, what was your biggest disappointment while you were on council?

In June 2019, I asked the acting Town Manager rank-order the top 6 chronic storm water hot spots across Town. I asked that he update Council on the time, cost and actions needed (e.g. engineering designs, DOT permits etc.) to resolve each of the “top 6.” The Town Manager provided updates at the regular Council meetings as well as our workshops. At the end of my term six months later, two of the six had been resolved. Looking back, I should have worked harder at establishing a quorum on Council to direct the necessary funds and required Town Staff actions, such as DOT engagement, in order to resolve the remaining four. 

Some residents have commented that their quality of life is diminishing?  How do you reassure them? The principal mission of any municipality of any size is to pursue action that support public health, safety and welfare. Over the past three months, the overriding concerns brought to my attention include the need to resolve storm water issues and enhance pedestrian safety. These two issues have a direct impact on quality of life. My assurance to my fellow CB residents is that I will prioritize action on modernizing our aging and, in some cases, crumbling infrastructure, which includes the storm water system. Many residents express a concern for their safety, especially at pedestrian crosswalks. To that end, I will continue the work undertaken by the past two Councils in partnering with NCDOT and make additional safety modifications to Dow Rd and Lake Park Blvd, such as traffic beacons and road calming measures, in order to make CB an even more friendly bike and pedestrian community.

Any parting words for residents as we look forward to electing the next council?  I was fortunate to have been part of a Council which accomplished much good for our town. During those same years of service as mayor, I remained accessible and accountable, never once turning down a resident’s request to meet. If elected back to Council, I pledge to remain the same—accessible and accountable, while tirelessly working on improving our quality of life. Thank you for your time.  





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