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Four state their case for spot on Rincon City Council

EDITOR'S NOTE: Following are profiles of the candidates for Rincon City Council in the Nov. 2 election.

Ben Blackwell Jr.

Ben Blackwell Jr. currently serves on the Rincon City Council and was appointed in late July to replace Ann Daniel. This isn’t his only city experience, however, as he has served on Rincon’s Planning and Zoning Board for more than four years.

Blackwell  said that he has worked with the city enough now that understands the issues and problems.

He acknowledges that traffic is an ongoing problem and said, “A lot of businesses that come to Rincon want to build on Highway 21 so they can capture all that traffic – that creates more traffic.” 

Blackwell said he saw the traffic build-ups when Popeye’s restaurant opened and expects to see the same thing when Zaxby’s opens. Also, he said the council is taking a hard look at areas like the Fort Howard corridor with the goal of getting away from spot zoning, but controlling growth through zoning.

Blackwell said another issue is storm water. He said the city has instituted a fee schedule similar to many other cities as a way to manage the storm water that comes in through the waste water treatment plant. 

He said the city likely will have to handle more water runoff as more development occurs. Blackwell said he thinks they are in pretty good shape right now with the treatment plant and adds that is a primary reason the city bought the Lost Plantation Golf Course. It is used as a spray field for treated water. 

Blackwell said he is hopeful that the creation of the new Effingham Parkway, which is just getting started, will lessen the traffic on Hwy 21. He said you can already see a lot of the traffic turning onto Blue Jay Road and onto Hwy 30. He said he was glad to see the recent TSPLOST money go toward road maintenance in the local area. 

He continued, “Coming from the Zoning Board, I’m looking at growth and trying to control the growth in a manageable way. We don’t want a lot of any one thing. We’ve got a lot of fast food restaurants, which is nice, but I know a lot of people would like to have a sit down restaurant, but I don’t know how the city can attract that.” 

He thinks the issues to overcome for that kind of development are the liquor license and the traffic counts that they rely on. 

Blackwell said that more growth is coming and that what is needed are new companies that will put more jobs on the ground for Rincon. That, he said, is how you’ll meet those traffic counts needed by the larger restaurants. 

He also said that once the COVID goes away and life gets back to normal, “It’s going to take off all over the place, not just Rincon.”

Blackwell said the council wants to keep Rincon a small town but with a little bit of growth that’s well managed. He said when people come home from work, they want a place that’s a little more relaxed and that’s what Rincon should continue to be. 

Damon Rahn

Damon Rahn sees the idea of serving on Rincon’s City Council as a continuation of his work on the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Board of Directors. Because of that role, he believes he has gained an insight into some of the future growth that Rincon and the area will see in the next several years.

Rahn said that in the process of bringing some of that growth in, “I would like to be able to keep a lot of that truck and warehouse traffic out and bring in sustainable work jobs to the area.” 

One area he would like to see grow that way is the Grandview Tract, which is to the east off of Old Augusta Road. He said he would like to see that area filled with jobs so that people don’t need to drive out of the county for work everyday.

Rahn said that he thinks Rincon has a great shot at getting more job-creating industries here now that the Effingham Parkway is getting underway. Now, he said, Rincon will have more transportation options for companies to use in getting their products out. 

He said, “Change is inevitable here because Savannah and Chatham are running out of property.”

Rahn said he realizes that with the Savannah Port continuing to expand, traffic and other issues also will continue to grow. 

“What I really want to see and what I don’t see a lot of is cultivating our existing relationships between the city and the county and other areas like the IDA, the Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “We should all be working together and I see a lot of overlapping things that just don’t make sense sometimes when you can really work together and lessen the impact on your residents as well.” 

Rahn said he is aware of a need for different revenue streams to support the city’s growth, but said he isn’t in favor of going to a property tax. Instead, he favors a move to creating special tax districts in the larger industrial and retail areas. 

He said Rincon’s current revenues come from water-sewer impact fees and policing but he doesn’t want to see the city depend on SPLOST funds, which can come and go. He also said, “If we continue to grow as we are, this whole area is going to become a bedroom community with great schools.” 

A downtown development commission might be a good idea for Rincon to develop as well, Rahn said. 

“I want to keep people from having to go to Pooler,” he said. “That would mean working to bring in a large family style restaurant and other entertainment options.” 

He said, right now our only amenity is the golf course and he wonders if the old Food Lion building couldn’t become a bowling alley or some other entertainment complex.

Levi Scott

Saying that Levi Scott enjoys serving on Rincon’s City Council might be an understatement. He has served on the council for about 28 years. 

Looking back at the city when he first started on council, Scott said he remembered when there were farmers on downtown Hwy 21. He thought back to when big industry (Fort Howard) came to town and how the city grew quickly afterward. 

Scott said at that time, the city’s water and sewer infrastructure was only about a mile long and said there were no “big box” stores in the city. 

“I’m excited about being a part of it (growth),” he said. “I think that anytime you live in an area and are involved, you need to be involved.” 

He wants to help with the changes – “make the commitment and make the sacrifices.”

Currently, all council positions are “at large,” but with the growth of the city Scott said going to council positions by district may be something that should be considered.

“We don’t want to consolidate all the offices in one area of town,” he said. “It’s something we need to start looking at.”

Scott said he’s proud of the way the city council over the years has managed the growth, saying it takes a lot of communication – dealing with people’s personalities to accomplish a common goal. He said serving on the council means keeping an open mind and not having a personal agenda – just focusing on what can be done to make the city the best it can be.

In thinking about infrastructure, Scott said transportation infrastructure has really held the city back but is optimistic about what the coming Effingham Parkway will do for the city. 

He said he thinks the parkway will allow for more growth in both Rincon and all parts of the county. One other major piece of infrastructure that will have to be worked out is water and sewer, which he says council is already looking at. Also, Scott said that the increase in logistics development here will bring more people and more stores to serve them.

Scott said that water will be a major issue going forward, even to the point of finding other sources. He said the city may have to find ways to reuse water from the sewer plant for things like watering lawns. 

Scott says the city is in good shape with its police and fire departments. He said they are experiencing a problem with purchasing new police cars due to the nationwide chip shortage but said they are working around that with used cars. He also said they switched to using SUVs because they are more available and are more durable. 

Rincon’s Fire Department also is in good shape, Scott said, even with the county moving to have the cities’ fire departments pull back in to just servicing their own city limits in two years, where currently they also serve the surrounding areas. 

Scott said the next two years are going to be really busy for the city and it’s critical to maintain the continuity. He is optimistic that Rincon could soon attract a major family restaurant and emphasized that the city’s job is to be ready for it.

Paul Wendelken

Paul Wendelken is a veteran when it comes to serving on the Rincon City Council, having served for 26 years before losing a 2019 election 

When asked why he wants to serve again, he said, “I enjoy it,  I’m committedand I think the single biggest thing is I think I can be a help to them.” 

Wendelken said that he understands it’s good to have some new blood – new thinking on the council – but emphasized, “I think it’s important to have the institutional knowledge that veteran council members can bring of why we did what we did in the past.”

Wendelken has his home and his business (Allstate Insurance) in Rincon and said he really enjoys serving the citizens. He talked about ground water issues and said he doesn’t foresee getting any groundwater discharge permitting, so he thinks current policies will probably remain in place. Wendelken said one possibility being discussed is taking water from the river and processing it.

Also, Wendelken said that it will soon be time to expand the wastewater treatment plant and said the thinking is that any potential industry that might come in or any business that would use reuse water would be beneficial. He also said that expanding their “purple pipe” or reuse water for residential irrigation in some areas might be a good way to satisfy the need for additional spray fields.

With the recent explosion of growth in Rincon, Wendelken said traffic will be one of the biggest issues that face the city. He said anyone having to drive into Savannah knows just how congested Hwy. 21 is. 

“I’m 100 percent in favor of growth – but smart growth and controlled growth,” he said.

He also said that he hopes the commercial and retail growth will continue, but he said he thinks it will move a bit more northbound along Hwy 21. Wendelken believes traffic will continue as a big issue over the next several years and that managing traffic will take the combined efforts of the city, the county and state.

The new Effingham Parkway should help take some of the traffic issues off of Rincon, but he said the council hopes it doesn’t become a bypass around Rincon. He said there is also a need for an east-west route through the county. He said right now the Bluejay Road/Blandford Road route is already serving in that capacity. 

Wendelken said that police and fire are other areas that the city will have to stay ahead of in the future. The current agreement between the county and Rincon regarding fire coverage will change soon, with Rincon pulling back from providing coverage outside the city limits. He said the councill will have to find a way to make up that county money that has been part of the budget. He went on to say that the police and recreation departments will also have to keep up with the growth of the city in order to serve the citizens.

Of the upcoming election Wendelken said, “I would just ask the public for their support in putting me on there so I can help. I believe I bring a lot to the table.”