RINCON — Four candidates are vying for three Rincon City Council seats.
James Dasher, Reese Browher, and Paul Wendelken are incumbents and Patrick Kirkland is a newcomer. The top three vote-getters will win the seats.
Dasher has served on the council for eight years and spent another eight on the Effingham County Board of Education. He said that he wants to run again this year because he has lived in Rincon for 45 years and this is home.
He said, “I know the people. I have their best interest at heart, I want to see progressive growth and I love Rincon.”
Dasher said it might be time for Rincon to institute a property tax. It hasn’t had one for many years.
“We need money to operate,” he said.
Road maintenance is a growing need in the city. Dasher explained that every time the city picks up a subdivision road system it adds to the city’s expenses.
He said, “Without money coming in, we stifle our employee benefits, their pay, we stifle everything we can do within the city because we don’t have the revenues to do it with.”
Rincon is one of the few cities in the country that doesn’t have a property tax, Dasher said.
Dasher said Rincon’s biggest challenges are growth and infrastructure needs for traffic. He worries about increased industrial growth and said commercial growth is needed to offset it. He said he knows that more and more tractor-trailers will be on Rincon’s streets as these projects develop and not having ample revenue is probably the city’s greatest challenge.
Dasher also addressed the question of why Rincon can’t attract a restaurant.
Wendelken has served on the council for 24 years.
“I think we do a good job — the council as a whole,” he said.
Wendelken said he thinks that the council has gotten a lot of positive things accomplished and he wants to see that continue.
“I’d like to see continued growth, positive growth,” he said.
Wendelken emphasized that he wants to see Rincon continue without instituting a property tax. He said the city did away with property taxes in 1998. He acknowledged that it’s getting harder to get the things done without that revenue. The city gets by occasionally increasing the fees it evies and by being efficient and wise about the projects it undertakes.
“No project is small anymore,” he said. “The police department needs two or three police cars. It’s time the fire department needs a firetruck, if not more. Recreation’s always needing more money, the wastewater treatment plant — expansions are coming up — the golf course, hopefully, is going to turn the corner now. It’s taking a lot of money.”
Reflecting on the police department’s recent history with short-term police chiefs, Wendelken said, “We’ve had department heads over time that have left for an assortment of reasons. It’s not always that council runs them off but that’s what a lot of people think.”
Wendelken said that the city council sets the policies and the city manager runs the day-to-day operation and the department heads answer to the city manager. He said that the council feels comfortable with the police officers that are currently taking care of police operations. He added that at times that the council hired a chief from the outside the city and sometimes from within and that it’s worked both ways. His goal, he said, is long-term stability.
Browher was 19 when he first ran for a council seat and he lost by 20 votes. He then finished his college degree and ran again and won. This is his 20th year on the council. He said he wanted to run again because he enjoys it and likes helping people.
He said he wants to see Rincon be able to bring in a larger sit-down restaurant. He also said he would like to see some kind of entertainment for children. He said that those are private sector functions but he feels like council would work with reasonable requests to land family-friendly dining and entertainment options.
Browher said, “I think one of the challenges Rincon faces is to continue to manage the budget in a way to ensure that we keep the residential millage rate at zero. That is probably, along with constituent services, right there at the top of my list as far as being very important.”
He said the council has to balance fees and he would much rather see a “pay as you use” approach than a tax on everyone. He also wants to add to the city while keeping a watchful eye on the budget.
Browher also expressed some pride in having been part of a council that had seen such growth in the parks and recreation program. During his tenure, the city has developed Patriots Park, Giles Park and Freedom Park, in addition to modernizing and expanding the capabilities at McComber Park.
He said the priority in selecting Rincon’s next police chief — Mark Gerbino resigned last month after serving less than a year — is to find someone whose main priority is the citizens of Rincon and the department. He is comfortable with the current police department staffing and said that maybe now is a time to sit back and see who can do what and rise to the top. He said he’s not in a big rush to get into a hiring process. With things running smoothly he’d rather wait to get the right person, whether from the inside or outside.
Kirkland is an ex-military man who has a lot of roots here and his wife is from Clyo. He said he wanted to run, in part, because a lot of the makeup of the city council has been the same for so long.
He cited the lack of family activities as something he would like to see changed.
“I would really like to see some family-friendly things to do.” he said. “I’d like to see them do a little more with the parks for example.”
Kirkland emphasized that he believes that Rincon Recreation Department is “absolutely phenomenal.”
He also said, “It would be nice to have a sit-down restaurant, which a lot of people talk about and I know it’s difficult, but in order to get that in here we have to bring in more growth, though it has to be smart growth and, along with the smart growth you’re going to bring in those restaurants that want to be here.”
Kirkland said that one of Rincon’s challenges is to bring people in who are smart and have great ideas, and don’t view Rincon as a career steppingstone.
He said he thinks his military background in intel and IT would help him work with the other members of the council to look at all possibilities and make good choices.
Kirkland isn’t sold on a property tax as a revenue source. He thinks community input is needed before going that route.
“I think we can come up with some ways besides a property tax, one of them being increasing the water fees and the sewer fees,” he said.