By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
Mayor Ron Ciancio says he is heartened by the level of engagement exhibited by Seabrook residents of late, even at the expense of shorter meetings. The trend continued, with council chambers brimming with attendees for Seabrook’s August Town Council (SITC) meeting. Following the dispatch of parliamentary obligations, Ciancio updated residents on the Town’s finances.
Seabrook has amassed just shy of $5 million in reserves, which is $300,000 better than this point last year, said the Mayor. The comment came ahead of declaring revenues for the month of July at $65,000 below projections. SITC has historically been spot on in knowing the amount of income they expect, but anticipating when the check will arrive is another matter. Although the town remains $90,000 in the black for the year, the mayor made a point of confirming with Town Clerk Faye Allbritton that checks for both business and telecom licenses were on their way. Expenses for July were also below budget by $16,000, and the bit of positive news made the perfect segue for a presentation by the Town’s auditor.
Erik Glaser arrived a smidge late to the meeting, which left no time for his renowned “accountant’s humor.” He got straight to the business of heaping praise on SITC/staff for their transparency and text book balance sheets in issuing his “clean opinion,” [industry-speak for; ‘as good as it gets’] of Seabrook’s finances. He said the Town was in very good shape. “Most towns are in the red or living paycheck to paycheck, but Seabrook has 4 years of reserves on hand,” he added. The abundance, Glaser said, facilitates capital improvements including drainage repairs along Seabrook Island Rd. This reporter lost count of how many times Glaser used the term “good stewards/stewardship,” when talking about SITC.
“Nothing but cooperation and quick responses,” he concluded.
Councilmember John Gregg talked about the club’s Long Range Planning Committee, saying they were collecting and weighing topics to discuss in 2019. The Public Safety Committee met earlier in the month with a focus on earthquakes. Planned communication mediums for seismic events include; Tidelines, the code-red system, and e-blasts. The group is also working on documenting guidelines for such events along with provisions for securing propane supplies and getting the staff back to the island. The finished product will be incorporated into the comprehensive emergency plan and available through the Town.
Gregg concluded his remarks by saying the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had approved another $33,000 tranche for Seabrook, $23,000 of which is headed for the Seabrook Island Utility (SIU).
Councilmember John Wells made short work of his report. He said construction on Seabrook Island Rd. would begin shortly. He concluded his report by saying Seabrook’s dolphin study was wrapping up and that metrics would be available for review by next month’s council meeting.
Councilmember Jeri Finke reported attending a meeting of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG) as a representative of SITC. She seemed to think SITC’s participation was important not because topics discussed at the meeting were germane to Seabrook, but because they weren’t. “They discussed parking and transportation… We aren’t even on their radar,” she said.
The Mayor began his portion of the meeting with the decade old issue of 1126 Ocean Forest. SITC won a year’s long wrestling match with ‘the bureaucracy’ last summer, which included the right to demolish the property. They granted John Matney the chance to renovate instead, but demanded a hefty bond to guarantee specified improvements. Failure to meet specified deadlines would result in fines, which Matney and Osprey Construction had avoided until now.
Claiming the re-design and structural analysis had taken longer than anticipated, the new owners were asking for a 6-month extension.
The request didn’t seem to be a lock as the Mayor sternly asked if the new date in March 2019 would be met.
He and the rest of Council ultimately accepted Osprey’s assurances, and the measure passed unanimously. The Mayor also won approval of an $18,000 expenditure for landscaping along Seabrook Island Rd.
Town Administrator Joe Cronin received approval for a contract with Bear Cloud Software (BCS). The $2,500 annual expenditure will provide a means of tracking short term rentals on the island. Staff will use it to verify compliance with SITC’s business license ordinance. There were plenty of questions. One Seabrook resident asked if SITC was looking at additional components of the software as a hedge against what she has witnessed; over-occupancy, parking violations, and general disregard for the sovereignty of Seabrook residents. SITC is content to see what BCS was all about before adding modules, and the measure passed as written.
Attention then turned to a discussion of the plan for construction of the senior living center behind Freshfields, and along Seabrook Island Rd. The reason for excellent civic engagement became clear. There was lengthy, interactive discussion and the Mayor, famed for the brevity of his meetings, took his time and fully and individually addressed a raft of questions on the proposal. He seemed resigned to the project but left attendees certain he was keeping his powder dry, and would defend Seabrook’s interests as best he could.
Cronin resumed the tiller, and detailed the improvements made to Town Hall; new paint, new seams, and a shiny new digital recording system welcoming SITC to the 21st century with the comment, “no more cassettes.” He concluded his report by saying SITC had received 250 comments on a draft of the Town’s comprehensive plan, and warned the comment period was wrapping up.
SIU didn’t make quite as much money as Jim Bannwart hoped in July. Abundant rainfall reduced irrigation demand for the month, which means less fresh water sold, he explained. The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has agreed to allow SIU to draw more water from Seabrook’s deep well. Although the amount of water permitted is less than originally requested by SIU, it is more than what DHEC had suggested. Finally in a good news/bad example, Bannwart said all 4 backup generators were online, but filling them with fuel contributed to July’s shortfall.
There were 4 measures for first reading on the agenda:
Ordinance 2018-06, rezoned 2460 Seabrook Island Rd. as a conservation easement, and passed unanimously. Finke abstained from the vote, and there was no debate on the measure.
Ordinance 2018-07 clarified Seabrook’s leash law. SITC said it consulted with residents including members of the pet friendly Sea Dogs group, and determined electronic collars would be prohibited. Some debate ensued with one resident insisting the devices are just as effective as physical collars. The Mayor agreed to discuss the matter in more detail before the second reading, but the measure passed as written.
Ordinance 2018-08 is a measure designed to strengthen fishing restrictions, and empower beach patrol to protect the public from untended lines or fishing too close to recreation areas. The measure passed unanimously.
Ordinance 2018-09 is a measure designed to define what materials can be used for “fences.” SITC code prohibited some materials the Community Association’s Architectural Review Committee didn’t. The ordinance will sync the two definitions, and passed without debate.
Citizen’s comments began anew with more discussion of the senior living center, leash laws, etc. Everyone seems to know each other on Seabrook, so participants didn’t bother introducing themselves, but kudos for civic engagement.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned. The next regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 2:30 p.m.