By Katy Calloway, The Island Connection Editor
The last Town Council Meeting in the current facility opened with an air of anticipation for the new Town Hall, which opened Monday Aug. 7.
Mayor Weaver began the meeting with a proposed amendment to the agenda regarding item 6a. Approval of the Island Beach Services Franchise Amendment, “On belief that there was an error in the way the contract was put together in 2015,” The Ways and Means committee may have been incorrectly handled the contract. Weaver stated that staff will do some research before August’s Ways and Means meeting, and they will conclude how to move ahead. Item 6a was removed by unanimous agreement.
Minutes were unanimously approved with a comment by John Wilson that due to his absence he did not actually second the adjournment of the public hearing. The minutes were amended.
Discussion of the new Town Municipal Center followed and the impending move taking place at the end of the week. Staff would be up and running by Monday morning. However, the mayor cautioned, “Be paitient… don’t run right over to do business on Monday morning, use your imagination for a while.”
Wendy Kulick took advantage of the citizens’ comments to confirm accurate language in the new employee handbook that is still awaiting final approval. The handbook has been in the works for 2 years, and is a major effort led by Town Administrator Stephanie Tillerson. Council has given careful attention to assure that verbiage and policies are relevant and clearly stated.
Kulick then went on to ask if volunteers are covered by policies in the handbook, and if so they too should receive copies be asked to sign an agreement to uphold its policies. Mayor Weaver responded to Kulick’s suggestion stating that there are some references to councilmembers and volunteers in the handbook and he would address them later.
New business included the unanimous approval of the CARTA budget, a requirement of TOKI acting as a charter member of CARTA. Ways and Means recommended the approval, Town Council approved.
Ways and Means also recommended the approval of the Greenery contract. The Greenery will assess the new Town Hall landscaping needs and propose to amend their contract. The original contract was for $152,000 and the proposed additional work will require an estimated $8,000 increase in cost.
Mayor Weaver pointed out that portions of the contract are not yet known, for example, mulch around the new Town Hall. “There is at this location, at lot of landscaping that isn’t landscaped,” stated Mayor Weaver. The contract deals with the area immediately around the new building but there are four surrounding areas that are not covered. Motion to approve the contract as-is passed unanimously.
Tillerson reported on the status of the Employee Handbook and reminded Council that the goal going into this was to create a user-friendly policy manual for employees. As they dove into it they did have to use some legalese which resulted in a lengthier-than-anticipated document.
She requested conversation around the tuition reimbursement policy, a program that currently only one Town employee is utilizing.
Mayor Weaver recalled his corporate experience to define a program that limits the Town’s exposure to tuition reimbursement. After some discussion, Council agreed that a cap on payment in the range of $5000 per fiscal year was necessary.
Tillerson stated the only significant changes in policy are with personal time off; vacation time and personal time has been merged to allow more flexibility in their use. The handbook also includes language how about how to handle compensation and the expectation to be at work during an emergency, a policy distinction driven by Hurricane Matthew.
Councilmember Wilson brought up the use of Town computers for personal business stating, “No reason to use Town equipment for anything other than Town purposes, whether it is trucks or anything else.” Significant discussion ensued.
Wilson made a motion to amend the language in the handbook to reflect his opinion, seconded by Councilman Koach.
When called for a vote it was split, with Councilmembers Mezzanotte and Widuch opposed and Mayor Weaver abstaining.
Therefore no changes were made. The new employee handbook was then approved unanimously.
Details surrounding the new Municipal Center were then discussed. It was decided that the exterior signs, including the traffic regulatory signs did not need to be replaced to provide continuity with the other signs throughout the island. Replacing the signs would cost approximately $9000 which Mayor Weaver did not feel was justified. Council agreed, noting that they weren’t particularly noticeable.
The fourth quarter budget report was provided by Town Treasurer Dorota Szubert. Szubert asked Council to note that the numbers were not final, and the year’s budget had not been closed. Fourth quarter state accommodations taxes, franchise fees and the monthly local accommodations tax and beverage taxes had not yet been received. By the end of the year, Szubert expects the revenues to be within the budget.
The only revenue she expects will fall short this year is interest revenue and according to Szubert administration is, “working on improving that performance for next year.”
A bright note in the budget report was the announcement that the Town is going paperless next year. Auditors will be working at the end of the month, and the final year’s budget should be available by October.
Town administrator updated Council on the work performed by Mercer Group, who was hired to assess the revenue generating departments. They also looked at the development departments and are finalizing a report. The report recommends changes, including redefining staff roles and organization to maximize efficiency.
Tillerman, Weaver and Wilson have all seen the preliminary report and are in agreement with its recommendations.
Councilmember Widuch, in his public safety report, noted that demolition of Station #6 has started. Comments about speeding both leading onto the island and on the island have resulted in the Sherriff’s office being more active in these areas and issuing more tickets. He concluded by stating that there is an open seat on the St. Johns District Fire Commission. It will be open shortly for public posting.
Councilmember Wilson clarified for Council that he did not attend the July 20 State Infrastructure Bank meeting as of July 11, he did however attend the meeting in its time. He also clarified that Chip Limehouse, the Kiawah representative for the SIB did not vote against the completion of 526 as was reported, in fact he did not get a chance to vote at all. The July 20 meeting, which Wilson attended via live feed, was inconclusive about 526.
The SIB tabled the issue until the next meeting, much to the disappointment of those in attendance, including Mayor Tecklenberg, Senator Sandy Senn and several county councilmembers.
Councilmember Mezzanotte reported that the Conservancy has received two more land donations and now have a total of 8 properties that equal about 1.5 acres. In environmental news, there are 320 turtle nests, 54 have hatched. Beach patrol has issued 109 warning tickets for dogs off-leash in 2017 and recently issued 6 actual tickets, which cost violators a minimum of $102.50 per incident. Also in 2017, 4 alligators have been removed, half the number reported at this time last year.
A $465 ticket for feeding an alligator was issued to a visitor in Parkside. Mezzanotte suggested the fee be raised.
Resident Marilyn Larach asked council why the previous town administrator and treasurer have not yet been arrested for embezzlement charges. Mayor Weaver responded stating, “There is still an active investigation taking place involving both the FBI and the local Federal prosecutor. We are not subject to learning the details of that investigation except to know that it is still occurring.”
The public portion of the meeting concluded and Council moved into executive session to discuss the Business Administrator’s contract with Mayor Weaver assuring the audience that, “this will not be long and the response will be, there will be no decisions and no votes taken.”