By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
The Feb. 26 meeting of Seabrook Island Town Council was called to order promptly at 2:30 p.m. Town clerk/treasurer Faye Allbritton confirmed the Mayor’s assumption; the Town had complied with all legal requirements for the assembly, and elected officials got straight to work. Five sets of minutes were approved with little/no modification as a medium sized audience looked on.
Mayor Ron Ciancio celebrated a financial report for the previous month which boasted $136,000 more revenue than anticipated. The amount is $96,000 better than the same period last year, and the mayor attributed the windfall to a surge in business licenses equal to 7.1% of projections for the year. Expenses also came in better than expected accounting for only 2.8% of the annual budgeted amount.
Town Administrator Joe Cronin chimed in to explain the budget would continue to be expressed as a percentage of annual projections, which he argued was a better indicator of performance. The arbitrary numbers used in the past contributed to a choppy ride last year, and the use of percentages will paint a better picture of how the year is playing out, he suggested. The Mayor tagged back into the conversation to make the point that despite spending nearly a million dollars repairing Seabrook Island Rd. last year, the Town still has $276,000 more than the previous year, a total fund balance just shy of $5M, and is still able to transfer money to the Town’s emergency fund.
Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem John Gregg said the Club’s Long Range Planning Committee didn’t meet again last month, and didn’t know when they would. Gregg seems confident upcoming elections/board changes for the group means there will be a meeting, and is puzzled by the silence.
Gregg said the Public Safety Committee met Feb. 11. The meeting focused on a winter storm preparedness exercise conducted Jan. 15 and 16. The disaster sub-committee is already working to draft provisions/lessons learned, and they expect the documentation to be completed in March. The Town’s Comprehensive Emergency Plan will then be updated with the new information in time for hurricane season, Gregg said. He also expressed disappointment with the normally reliable Town newsletter for failing to pass along the Town’s request for volunteers.
The disaster preparedness team is trying to build a list of volunteers willing and qualified to help (e.g. medical backgrounds, backhoe familiarity, experience in a commercial kitchen, etc.) in an emergency.
Some events could render roads impassable and leave the island isolated and without any sort of staff available to assist. The Town is still seeking legal advice on how/if they can proceed in implementing the idea, but remain interested in building the list all the same.
Gregg nodded as he reported the town sent a check to the Seabrook Island Utility, and drew a smile from SIU liaison Tim Morawski.
The check represents SIU’s share of funds reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for costs incurred as a result of Hurricane Florence. Seabrook applied for over $28,000 in relief, of which the federal component of FEMA agreed to return about $21,000. The amount does not reflect the possibility of further reimbursement from the SC Emergency Management Division (the state level element of FEMA), which could increase Seabrook’s total refund.
However, Gregg appeared doubtful as he announced it.
Councilmember Crane said upgrades to the Town’s website were nearing the last, most labor intensive part of the process. Updating content (About, Town Government, Town Services, etc.) takes time. He and his team are also working to define an editorial process for the Town’s use of social media; who can/not post, what can/not be posted, and expects a first draft in April.
Councilmember Wells opened his remarks with an apology for the flooding along Seabrook Island Rd.
He said phase one (a.k.a. the Gatehouse project) was nearly complete, despite encountering some hurdles along the way.
“1. The Town’s lack of easements for drainage outfalls across adjacent properties and along the property lines on both sides of Seabrook Island which has take between 18-24 months to complete.
- Development of contractual documents, advertisement and selection of TRIAD to perform the contract.
- Approval by OCRM for the installation of additional flapper gate valves in critical outfalls nearly a year after the issue of the basic contract to TRIAD Engineering,” Wells said.
Worse he concluded; drainage enhancements at the marina didn’t dovetail with the Seabrook Island Rd. project as hoped.
Wells also requested volunteers for this year’s dolphin education program. Wells pitched improvements to conditions for volunteers moving into the 2019 season.
A box will be placed near Captain Sams inlet stocked with chairs, umbrellas, and etc. The supplies will be stored there to make volunteering for the program easier this year than last (e.g. walking 1.5 miles in the rain to fetch an umbrella will no longer be necessary, for example). He also said last year’s 4 hour shifts will be replaced by 2 hour shifts.
Mayor Ciancio opened his remarks with a motion to move over $138,000 from the general fund to Seabrook’s emergency fund. The new total is just shy of the long sought after and sometimes elusive goal of at least $2M in the rainy day account. The Mayor’s diligence means crossing the threshold before the end of the current legislative session is just a short putt away.
Ciancio also reminded attendees of the Town’s plan to replace its auditor, not because of any deficiency, but as a matter of good governance. However, the timing of the change in the face of an RFP would create an overlap in the fiscal/calendar year forcing the new auditor to come in to a work in progress. SITC has decided to wait until the end of the calendar year to make the change, and since it budgeted for more than it is currently paying for the service, there will be another, small windfall for the Town.
Town Administrator Joe Cronin had a lengthy report that opened with details of changes to beach patrol. More weekends in March and September will be covered than last year, as well as every day from March 31 to Sept. 3, for an additional 16 days more than last year’s contract. Eleven members of beach patrol were named as code enforcement officers. Cronin then moved for and got unanimous approvals to fund the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network’s Dolphin Education Program for 2019, sell the old jeep, and buy a new truck.
Tim Morawski reported normal operations for SIU during the previous month. The utility operated at a marginal loss again, and Morawski warned that SIU was also in the market for two new trucks to replace the 23-year-old vehicles currently in service.
He anticipates a cost of approximately $24,000 for each of the two vehicles.
There were three measures before Council for a first reading, and all three were good news for the Greenspace Conservancy. Ordinances 2019-01, 2019- 02, and 2019-03 were all approved for rezoning to conservation districts. 2019- 01; 1146 Ocean Forrest Lane. 2019-02; 2096 Seabrook Island Rd. 2019-03; 2326 Cat Tail Pond Rd.
The three properties were acquired by the Greenspace Conservancy and the titles will be transferred to the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association.
Seabrook resident Dale Leibach added a spark to citizen’s comment by resurrecting the issue of Seabrook’s leash ordinances. He entered a petition into the record which tallied 100 hundred signatures so far, and it is still growing. They are asking for an area for dogs consistent with the area previously defined, requesting a formal hearing, and asking to revisit the electronic dog collar prohibition passed/clarified last year.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting of the Seabrook Island Town Council will be Tuesday, March 26 at 2:30 p.m.