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Apr 15 2017

Mayor Weaver Updates Kiawah Island Utility (KIU) Rate Increase Request

By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer

The April 4th meeting with the Town of Kiawah Island (TOKI) started at exactly 2 p.m. Mayor Weaver got straight to work by saying item “G” on the agenda; “TOKI contribution to employee health insurance premiums,” would be stricken from the agenda. The issue was resolved last month, and did not require further discussion. The adjustment bled into his scheduled remarks.

He informed the gallery John Wilson would be council’s liaison to chair of the recently formed public works committee.

The mayor also took the opportunity to update attendees on the Kiawah Island Utility (KIU) rate increase request. TOKI collaborated with the Kiawah Island Community Association (KICA) and negotiated a 14.6 percent increase, down from KIU’s original 25 percent request. The Public Service Commission held a hearing subsequent to the negotiations (March 21), and nothing happened at the time which would derail the negotiations, said the mayor.

The mayor also reported on the developer’s request to conduct a re-nourishment project along Captain Sam’s Spit (see related article in The Island Connection for details).

News of the project leaked following last month’s council meeting, and resulted in a backlash from residents. Concerned citizens deluged the Office of Coastal & Resource Management (OCRM – a division of the Department of Health and Environmental Control [DHEC]) with five times the number of letters needed to garner a hearing.

The mayor said the public discussion would be held in council chambers on April 18 starting at 6 p.m.

Kiawah resident Wendy Kulick said “ordinances 2017-05, and 06 under ‘New Business’ relate to the municipal code and/or ordinances concerning residential sprinkler systems. What was the impetus for these two ordinances, and what input was the St. John’s Fire District (SJFD) asked to provide?

The minutes from the March 2017 Council meeting, as well as those from January and February Council meetings this year reflect comments I made/questions I asked regarding when those of us who ask questions would receive responses. Chapter 3, Section 2-308(a)(2)(d) of the Town’s Municipal Code states

The town will make a good faith effort to respond to such question(s) at the meeting when the question(s) is presented if the question(s) can be accurately and readily answered. If not, the town will make a good faith effort to respond to such question(s) in writing within two weeks of the public presentation of the question(s). To date, no responses have been provided to the majority of the questions I have asked since January. Will these questions be answered? If so, when?

If not, does the Town intend to change the Municipal Code to eliminate the time period during which Council will provide answers to citizens?” The mayor responded saying all her questions would be addressed later in the meeting.

Kiawah resident and retired Judge Dennis McGill thanked council for not having an executive session scheduled for today. He also thanked them for agreeing to host a hearing on the utility, and congratulated Wendy Kulick and Diane Lehder again for their efforts to hold KIU accountable. He asked if outside council’s compensation would reflect the quick resolution of the rate increase request. The mayor said he hoped so, too, but hasn’t seen a bill yet.

The mayor turned attention to the upcoming Earth Day. He said he was disappointed the conservancy wasn’t present, but was determined to read the proclamation anyway. 47 years after the first Earth Day, the date would fall on the 22nd of April again, and that seemed like cause for celebration.

There were four items of old business, and like last month’s new business, all related to the same ordnance(s), and were dealt with as one act. The measures are a follow up to one passed two years ago. Ordinance 2015-01 was enacted after the TOKI versus Strauchon Painters case was brought before Municipal Court, accused of a code violation. John L. Strauch, Chief Municipal Judge dismissed the case, saying he was not empowered to assess fines in civil matters. The previous TOKI attorney was determined to get $200 from Strauchon Painters. So he appealed the ruling, researched town statutes, drafted legislation, and prepared arguments for Town Council. He was confident the case would be overturned and 2015-01 would aid his case by establishing “legislative intent.” However, the town’s new attorney felt the past measure was inadequate, and recommended changing language from “Ordinance Violation Penalty” to “Fine” in four different places of the town’s code (e.g. ordinances 2017-01, 02, 03, and 04). The measures were unchanged from last month and passed unanimously.

There were seven items of new business, and the first three were all considered in a single action pertaining to building codes.

TOKI staff member Bruce D. Spicher presented the set of ordinances 2017-05, 06, and 07 were all items the town felt placed an undue financial burden on residents.

Spicher began by explaining the SJFD not been consulted on 05, in answer to Kulick’s earlier question. He continued detailing ordinance 2017-05, saying the old law required an undue level of expertise for someone consulting on residential (yard) sprinkler systems and this would reduce expenses. Similar explanations were presented for the other two ordinances and all passed a first reading unanimously. The next two items were moves to hire the Mercer Group for two separate contracts.

The consulting firm may be familiar as the company hired to search for a treasurer, (finding the “girl next door” i.e. she was working for the developer”). They will now be engaged in two separate contracts. The first contract, for an amount not to exceed $12,950, is for the purpose of reviewing and streamlining TOKI’s licensing, permitting and inspection functions. The second contract, for an amount not to exceed $8,950, is for review of classification and compensating staff. Both measure passed unanimously.

New business concluded with an extension of the AirMedCare contract for an additional year, and an agreement to match 50 percent of staff 401K contributions up to $3,000 starting on July 1, 2017.

The town administrator began her report saying, “to bring to awareness of council…” a couple of items, but the mayor had a better synopsis in mind and took the reins.

Speaking to the “multi vacation ownership,” or fractional ownership” issues raised last month by the Timbers Resort project, the mayor said this type ownership was different than a timeshare. The possibility is addressed by both state code, (which allows up to 13 owners) and town ordinance (which allows up to nine). He said fractional ownerships must be registered with the state, and the town must be provided with a copy of that registration. The mayor estimates at least 16 properties fall into this category, and some may be out of compliance. The mayor concluded the administrator’s report by saying 25 percent of the municipalities checked offer supplements to their employees insurance premiums (e.g. not toward dependent coverage).

Council member Koach did not have a report to share, but Chris Widuch did. He said the municipal center is on schedule and expects to meet an early August move in date. He said it was still early, but the project remains on budget. Widuch concluded by informing council the public safety committee has raised the possibility of a helipad.

Council member Wilson said that he had been to a regional transportation meeting and came away with two pieces of information. A resolution approving a .10¢ gas tax with 80 percent of the funds going to the collecting jurisdiction had been approved. The second piece of information was a case study on permitting. Summerville took eight years getting a project [details were provided but it was mentioned as an abstract] approved only to have Washington step in at the last second and add two years to the process. The object lesson he deposited was a comment on the cumbersome nature of permitting, without mentioning a specific application to Kiawah.

Council member Mezzanotte spoke to the success of several recent Arts Council events. Visit kiawahisland.org for a complete listing. She concluded her report by saying the environmental committee had added two sub-committees; one to study the effects of sea level rise on Kiawah and the other to study the art of “low impact communities” without a specific application.

Dennis McGill stepped back to the plate, and began the second round of citizen’s comments to ask about the Mercer studies. He asked why the studies were being undertaken and why payment for TOKI staff was in any way comparable to their counterparts in the much larger cities of Charleston and Columbia. The mayor interrupted to say the comparisons were exactly the reason for the study.

Wendy Kulik returned and said “Ya’ll are used to hearing me talk about process. I do so again now. In the latest edition of Town Notes, part of the Mayor’s column is devoted to expressing the Town’s support for the KP application to OCRM re: sand fencing and nourishment next to the Timbers project. When did the Council meet to discuss this application and when was a vote taken to support the Partners’ application to OCRM? Did the Environmental Committee vote to support the application?”

The Mayor responded the column was not in support of the application before allowing Kulick to continue.

I appreciate Bruce’s response to my earlier question, but it doesn’t really answer my question. The SJFD has expertise which might have picked up issues which should be revisited. This might be especially helpful since Bruce acknowledged there were revisions to ordinances approved today because of information the Town didn’t have or didn’t realize was pertinent. You said earlier, Craig, that all my questions would be answered today. They have not. When was the forensic accountant’s report turned over to the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s office?”

The mayor said 23 people had asked 77 questions during the previous year. He said many were making comments, not necessarily asking questions. Careful review [with help from Kulick] revealed the majority of questions had been answered either in session or within the allotted two weeks “in good faith.” The mayor also said the questions covered 56 topics, 20 of them were comments, 36 were questions, and 27 of the 36 had been answered. This left 4 main items in three categories he would spend the next 36+ minutes covering.

Regarding the sale of the utility, the mayor said the developer was informed by TOKI [at the time] the town was no longer interested and relinquished its first right of refusal. Therefore, KIU was no longer bound to offer TOKI the right to intervene, and the sale to a third part went through.

Nothing has changed on criminal charges for the former treasurer and administrator, he said. Federal law enforcement is engaged, and through them everybody who needed to be informed would be. Weaver said TOKI continues to follow up with the FBI’s Office, which has assured them an active investigation by Federal and state authorities continues. He said forensic information had not been provided to the 9th circuit solicitor as a matter of protocol. The 9th circuit would not be informed unless and until SLED and FBI turned the matter over to them specifically. He concluded the topic by saying he/TOKI was not about to let this fall through the cracks.

In response to questions about reading responses to questions from the previous month, the mayor declined. He also declined to post answers to the web site. He said council has business to conduct and is not a question and answer body, and posts to the website weren’t feasible.

Ginny Abbott closed out citizen’s comments wondering if there was a statute of limitations on the fraud charges and was there a difference in the civil charges. She was informed there were 1.5 years left on any civil action and was assured the clock was being watched. Abbott then said she was a part time resident with nothing but praise for the work Kulick does to keep everyone else informed about Island happenings and hopes [Kulick] will keep it up. There being no further business, and no executive session, the meeting was adjourned.

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