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Aug 13 2020

Balancing The Books

By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer

Local residents tuning in to watch the July 28 meeting of the Seabrook Island Town Council might want to skip the beginning of the proceedings.

Some technical bugs produced an auditory assault at the beginning of the Zoom meeting. Mayor John Gregg shrugged off the glitch and managed to speak under the cacophony to pronounce the public hearing of ordinance 2020-06 officially open.

Individuals who wish to submit a question or comment on any town matter – including those not on the agenda – may do so before the meeting. Written questions and comments will be accepted until noon on the day of the meeting.

Questions may be submitted online at townofseabrookisland.org/tc-07-282020.html; by email at fallbritton@ townofseabrookisland.org; or by mail or dropped off in person at 2001 Seabrook Island Road.

This particular issue, however, garnered no comments whatsoever.

Ordinance 2020-06 is the town’s effort to balance its books despite the budgetary melee precipitated by the coronavirus, and there is little doubt surrounding its necessity. Council members and staff quantified reductions in accommodations tax funds both from the county and the state to the tune of approximately $117,000 for the current year. The town also expects reductions in both the general fund and alcohol tax categories for an additional reduction of $124,000. Ordinance 2020-06 is needed to rectify nearly $241,000 in lost revenue.

Financials for the month of June started out on the right foot. The mayor reported a total fund balance of $5,327,901.02, which is roughly $242,000 more than the same period in 2019. Seabrook still managed to generate about $211,000 in revenue for the month of June. Total revenue for the

year is $704,000, or about 53% of the 2020 budget – about $80,000 less than in 2019. Expenses for June were $83,000, for a running total of $413,000, or about 30% of the annual budget. Expenses are about $274,000 less than in 2019 because of lower roadway improvement costs this year, the mayor explained. The town is looking at an excess of revenue over expenses of $290,000 for the year.

Council Member Skip Crane was first to deliver a committee report. His green screen featured an expansive and sunny salt marsh scene that belied the seriousness of his message. The collective wisdom of his Public Safety Committee is that plague prevention is not being respected, despite the combined efforts of the club and community association’s efforts to communicate the need. Crane also said the town’s Comprehensive Emergency Plan has been revised to reflect shutting down and re-opening in the event of a pandemic. The committee proposed several follow-up questions to the report, which will be addressed and woven into the finished product.

Council Member Pat Fox reported that the town’s shortwave radio antenna has been repaired and is available as needed. Fox also said the community association will be dissolving its support of longtime community newspaper The Seabrooker, and that September will be the last full page ad SIPOA takes out. SIPOA will step down to half-page ads through March of next year, followed by quarter page ads through June 2021.

The purpose behind the move is the success of Currents, the community association’s online “magazine.”

Council Member Jeri Finke said she and Council Member Barry Goldstein received a letter from Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network Executive Director Lauren Rust. Apparently volunteers from the Kiawah side of the river took some disturbing pictures of dolphin interactions on the far side of the river on a day when there were no Seabrook volunteers. Finke plans on

putting a notification in Tidelines and asking the rental agencies how they might be able to help reinforce the rules.

 The Island Connection previously reported the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration defines two levels of harassment: Level A – Any act of pursuit, torment or annoyance that has the potential to injure, and Level B – Any act that has the potential to disturb by causing a disruption of behavioral patterns in migration, breathing, nursing, feeding or sheltering.

Fines can be as high as six figures in extreme cases.

LMMN pitches a number of recommendations when observing dolphins. The tip of the education iceberg includes: maintaining a distance of 50 yards when observing from the water and 15 yards while on land; do not approach, touch or attempt to push a stranded marine mammal back into the water; report a stranded marine mammal – dead or alive – to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources wildlife stranding hotline by calling 800-922-5431; do not feed marine mammals; clean up trash; and, above all, do not harass marine mammals.

The mayor took the reins and said that Scott Cave, consultant to Seabrook since the advent of the town’s CEP, is now doing business under the name eGroup Holding Company LLC.

The change necessitated a vote of Council to continue Cave’s many contributions to Seabrook’s emergency preparedness. The vote was unanimous.

It also was decided unanimously that Goldstein will take point on eliminating the use of second-generation rodenticides on the island. These poisons have been used to control rodents but require several doses to be lethal. Bobcats on neighboring Kiawah have been eating these pests, and their numbers have plummeted as a result, leaving a gaping hole in the natural eco-systems of both islands.

The mayor concluded his report by officially canceling the permit required by the marina to hold its 2020 billfish tournament as part of Seabrook’s pandemic response.

Town Administrator Joe Cronin won unanimous support for Britain-based American Films of Wildstar Films Ltd. to film on Seabrook’s beach. He said they are doing a documentary on wildlife in America and want to film strand-feeding dolphins for a couple of weeks between Sept. 8 and Sept. 22. Seabrook’s dolphin education volunteers have been invited to assist in the project.

Cronin continued by keeping a promise made by the Town Council to review the effectiveness of last year’s changes to the Beach Ordinance as it applies to pets. Residents interested in submitting comments can do so using any of the methods listed above. Also and despite all the attention given to revising the 2020 budget, it’s time to start thinking about the 2021 budget. The Council meeting  calendar was approved.

Cronin concluded his report by saying Seabrook is once again the recipient of the Municipal Achievement Award in the 1,001 to 5,000 resident category.

 “I’ve been in municipal government for a long time, and this is the first time I’ve been a part of an organization that won two years in a row,” he crowed.

Ordinance 2020-06, the only item of business, passed unanimously.

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