By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
The weather on May 2 was too nice to be inside, and attendance for the council meeting of the Town of Kiawah Island (TOKI) reflected it. Few were there who didn’t have to be, and an eerie hush prevailed as minutes were approved. The mayor then informed the room of two items:
1. The proposed agreement between the Kiawah Island Utility (KIU), TOKI, and the Kiawah Island Community Association (KICA) has been approved. He said the Public Service Commission (PSC) would sign the final order on May 3, and he expects a 14.6 percent increase in water rates. The mayor also expects this is the last time he will mention the utility rate case [until the next rate hike].
2. Fees for the arbitration will be split 50/50 between TOKI and KICA, and he thinks the fees for the attorney in the KIU case, when finalized, will be considerably less than what TOKI was originally planning because of an expedited resolution. [Preface to citizen’s comments: KICA has plans to upgrade the Sandcastle. Construction slated to begin later this year will impact/cancel events/classes routinely held there for the ensuing 6-12 months. TOKI meeting materials included a proposal drafted to persuade the town to help.]
Wendy Kulick was prepared with comments for the “agenda items only” portion of citizens comments. Regarding the proposed policy of renting out space at the new Municipal Center Complex (MCC), she asked why the policy specified only Kiawah residents.
“Does this mean that if a non-resident property owner sought to rent space for an event at the MCC, his/her request would be denied? If so, I would suggest revising the policy to include all Kiawah property owners,” said Kulick.
She also wanted to know why securing space in the MCC for events with long established daily/weekly schedules, could not be scheduled more than 90 consecutive days in advance?
“Clubs and organizations on Kiawah need to have certainty about when/where they will meet. There are also some grammatical errors which I would be happy to point out to Stephanie or the council member the mayor may designate to review these.[Errors] include usage of the word “only” and [examples of] subject/verb agreement,” said Kulick.
Old business consisted of a second reading for three ordinances the mayor moved to treat as a single act. Ordinances 2017-05, 06, and 07 were pitched as items the town felt placed undue financial burden on residents and contractors alike. The Building Inspection department brought the measures to council’s attention earlier this year. Ordinance 2017-05 is a corrective measure designed to level the playing field for installers of yard sprinkler systems, for example. Existing rules demanded they have the same level of expertise/certification/license as people installing fire suppression systems adding unnecessary expenses/burdens. Similar explanations were presented for the other two ordinances and all passed the second reading unanimously.
The first item of new business was the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget. Detailing fiscal matters can produce the urge to nap, but the mayor was ready with an overview he hoped was brief enough to prevent snoring. TOKI expects revenues of $9,000,000 compared to expenses of $7,300,000 which include capital expenditures, leaving 1,700,000 in revenue over expenses. TOKI observes a 3 percent rise over last year’s budget, and expects 4 percent rise in the current year.
Expenses went up in the current year by 9 percent, which the mayor attributed to the new building, anticipated costs of supporting the larger building, and miscellaneous costs like moving expenses. The budget passed its first reading unanimously. The associated public hearing has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on June 2, with the second/final reading to occur at the June 6 council meeting.
Compete details behind the still lengthy discussion are available on the town’s website, kiawahisland.org.
Several items of new business would go a little quicker. Council approved adding a sheriff to the roster, seven days per week during the summer months, approved a five year copier/printer agreement with Xerox, and instituted a new charter for the environmental committee which named staff member Jim Jordan as Chair. However, the pace of the meeting would slow a bit to cover the remaining two items of new business.
LS3P is the firm hired to design the new municipal building. Somewhere along the line, completion dates were muddled with effective dates, and the glitch ended the contract with the firm before the building was actually finished. Council member Widuch informed council original estimates of $25,000 to extend the contract had been winnowed down to $18,000, which he recommended they spend. There was a great discussion and many questions following civic the request, with enough overlapping voices to resemble a Sunday political show.
Widuch eventually brought debate to a close proffering the alternative to “poison the relationship” with LS3P before the project was completed. Funding the extension was approved unanimously. Debate over renting space in the new town hall followed a similar trajectory.
Council member Mezzanotte took point on recommending TOKI make its new space available, once rooms at the Sandcastle are lost to construction. The document included in the meeting materials was a first, best effort to address the details of a solution and to prompt debate, which it did. Discussion included a tsunami of “what-ifs” and “why nots,” with plenty of overlapping voices.
Mezzanotte insisted council do something to help. The mayor would later object to Zumba classes, approve a conservancy event, and agree to further discussions.
The town administrator’s report was a budget review for the first nine months of the current fiscal year delivered by treasurer, Dorota Szubert. Revenues are slightly below target because of timing issues in the collection of taxes. Expenses, meanwhile, are much higher than expected owing primarily to costs associated with Matthew. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hasn’t helped the situation, denying 100 percent of TOKI’s claims. TOKI is appealing, and is now looking to Seabrook and Hilton Head for advice. Both neighboring islands have succeeded in getting most/all of their claims approved by FEMA.
Council member Mezzanotte kicked off council comments by talking about the success of some recent Arts Council events.
She announced the last event of the current season is Piccolo Comes to Kiawah to be held June 6, at Mingo point. She also announced the Festival of Mountain Music would be held on July 2 as the first event of the next season. Complete details are available by visiting, kiawahisland.org/events.
Council member Wilson reported attending a meeting of the Charleston Area Transportation Study (CHATS) and enthusiastically shared part of a resolution endorsing the completion of I526 to attendees. However, Kathryn Basha of the Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester Council of Governments, parent organization to CHATS, was less celebratory. “CHATS agreed to ‘support’ the project so that the State Infrastructure Bank would continue its consideration, but did not approve any funding to the project,” she told The Island Connection in an email.
Wilson continued his report with a lament on the time spent getting the proper permits for construction projects, again this month. He cited the Main/17 flyover as an example of a solution he speculated could be delayed for years by permitting and protests, without further explanation for his protest.
He concluded his report by saying the newly formed public works committee, now chaired by Dave DeStefano, had met and discussed the possibility of $100,000 in repairs to the bridge over the Kiawah River.
Council member Widuch said Public Safety would advise residents when the trailer for the fire department would be moved to the island. It will be used as temporary housing while a new firehouse is being built at Flyway Dr. and will take up most of the road while it is in transit.
Widuch then reported asking Charleston County EMS to keep a quick response vehicle (QRV) on the island during the summer months. County officials agreed and surprised him by saying they now had 23 staffed ambulances and would be able to position one of them on Betsy Kerrison.
Widuch concluded his report by saying there had been no change in status to the municipal center.
Wendy Kulick led off the second round of citizen’s comments by saying, “I thought sheriff’s deputies would be sitting near the new MCC to get people used to the new 35 mph limit. I’ve almost been rear-ended coming back onto the Island four times” [council responded saying they were going to be there soon].
“Neither Kiawah’s mayor [nor] council members were quoted in a recent Post & Courier [April 28] detailing a press conference of local leaders opposed to Trump’s offshore drilling order. None of you are present in the picture which appeared in the Post and Courier. Given the importance of tourism to Kiawah and the damage, both literal and figurative were an oil spill to occur off the coast, why didn’t the Town participate? I recognize that neither you, Craig, nor John Wilson supported the resolution banning such operations that was passed by the last Council, but it passed nevertheless. Were you contacted about attending this press conference?” Kulick asked. [The mayor said he didn’t recall being invited].
“In mid-April, I asked whether the Council had addressed the issue of a policy on de-humidifiers, especially regarding the role they have played in causing some house fires on Kiawah, specifically the Blue Heron Pond fire. In early November, you indicated you would ask Bruce Spicher to look into this. Has he done so? Is there an ad hoc committee looking into it?” asked Kulick. [The mayor said he would ask Bruce Spicher to review, and remembers TOKI advising residents against dehumidifiers which had been recalled]. Kulick concluded her remarks by asking for an update on the embezzlement case against former TOKI employees and was informed there was no update.
Kiawah resident Diane Lehder is concerned about planned clearing near the new municipal complex intended to provide a view of the river, and told TOKI so. She didn’t think the clearing was something the ARB would approve if it was being done on the island and thought TOKI should abide by the same rules or risk telling Johns Island neighbors there was a double standard. She also wanted to see service animals allowed in the new municipal building. [The mayor said they weren’t taking out any large trees and thinks the ARB would approve the clearing if it was on the island, and agreed to consider including service animals in TOKI documentation].
Kiawah resident and retired judge Dennis McGill was spreading the joy again this month. He did ask TOKI to come out against offshore drilling. However, he then congratulated council for not having an executive session three-quarters of the time, thanked the town administrator for assisting him fill Freedom of Information requests, usually at no charge, and congratulated Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR) CEO Roger Warren because four of the five golf courses he presides over are ranked in the top 30.
Roger Warren’s comments opened with a “bac-atcha” thanks to McGill saying he wanted to get his fifth golf course in the top 30 as well. Warren, who also presides over the five star Sanctuary Hotel, welcomed TOKI to the world of room rentals, amidst lots of appreciative chuckles. He allows many of Kiawah’s organizations to use space usually without charge, but said if TOKI was going to start charging, so would he. There being no further business and no executive session, the meeting was adjourned.