It’s not the same Rincon Paul Wendelken grew up in, but some things haven’t changed in the eyes of the city council incumbent.
It’s the residents of Rincon who make a place people want to live.
“That’s the people,” he said. “You can’t take credit for that as a government. The city council can help with that. We can continue to make it a good place to live with services without taxes on property.”
Wendelken has served on the council for 12 years and deciding to run for a fourth term was a difficult decision. He’s recently married and welcomed three children into his life. But he still likes public service, so he opted to run again.
“I do still enjoy it,” he said. “I feel I’m good at it. I feel I bring a lot to it. I enjoy it, that’s the main thing.
“I want to do it,” he said. “I’m experienced in it. You can’t change the world in one or two years, sometimes 12 years. But you can do a little bit and make it a better world to live in. I’m committed to doing it. You need to know where you came from to know where you are going. If not, you could be spinning your wheels.”
Yet the job isn’t just two hours of meetings twice a month, Wendelken said. Already, Rincon City Council members have had four workshops on next year’s budget.
“All the things we’re working on aren’t done from 7-9 on two official meeting nights a month,” he said. “There are things we have worked toward for the last eight to 12 years,” he said. “A lot of these things were started in previous councils. Even though the councils may change, the philosophy of Rincon, the growth and the direction has stayed the same. We are together on the direction we need to go in.”
There are things he wants to be a part of completing. Wendelken wants to be able to secure long-term water and sewer plans for the city.
“That’s probably been the overriding issue for the last four or five years and will be for the next short term,” he said.
Wendelken has been in Rincon since he was 9 months old. He’s seen Rincon’s growth, mirrored by Highway 21 going from a two-lane road to a four-lane, divided, busy thoroughfare.
“It’s exciting to see Lowe’s and Tractor Supply Company move in,” he said.
The city has upgraded and expanded its wastewater treatment plant to handle not only the new and current construction but the expected influx of people and businesses. The city now is working on upgrading the plant to a tertiary level, where it can treat wastewater to a reuse level.
“We’ve always thought long term,” Wendelken said. “Now we’re trying to stay one step ahead. We’ve done more than we’ve have had to sometimes, prepping for the future. We try to manage the growth.”
Wendelken also wants to target recreation and pointed to the improvements to Macomber Park and Atlantic Avenue Park. He also used the city’s financial prudence as an example of how well things are going. Wendelken, a former volunteer firefighter, said the city has bought four fire trucks since 2000 and all of them are paid off.
Rincon is adding to its public safety ranks by budgeting for its first full-time firefighter next year.
“The city is in great financial shape,” he said. “That’s a testament to the people who have been on the council before me and with me.
“We run the city like a business,” Wendelken said. “As long as we do that, we’ll be all right.”
He said the city has to think in terms of spending other people’s money when it considers expenditures.
“If I wouldn’t spend it with my checkbook,” Wendelken said, “why would I spend it with the city’s checkbook?”
And, for more than a decade, it’s been done without a city-imposed millage rate, something Wendelken is proud of.
“The ability of not having a property tax is very important to me,” he said.
There may come a time when Rincon has to re-institute a property tax, but “I want to push that back as far as I can,” Wendelken said.
While water and sewer resources are paramount, so is transportation.
“We’re looking at doing something to alleviate the congestion on Fort Howard Road,” Wendelken said, “and to try to take care of the drainage concerns. A lot of that comes with growth. A lot of times it’s the little things that make a big difference.”
The city doesn’t allow open ditches now and may undertake piping and covering existing open ditches.
“That’s a project that’s going to take a lot of years,” Wendelken said.
Another push to provide for future growth is going from 2-inch water pipes to 6- and 8-inch pipes.
“It doesn’t sound like a big thing,” Wendelken said, “but it’s a maintenance issue and once you take care of it, you take care of it for years.”
Not only has Rincon changed since he was a child, it’s different from when he first went on the council.
“It’s very different,” Wendelken said. “Twelve years ago, it was a big deal if we resurfaced a street. We had an athletic association that headed up the recreation department for the city. The fire department had two or three trucks. The police department had four or five officers.
“It will be much different 12 years from now.”