By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
The Town of Kiawah Island set what may well have been a record at its June 7, 2016 meeting, clocking in at three hours and forty minutes. This is going to take a minute, so fasten your safety belts and keep your hands inside the ride at all times as, much like May’s meeting, this is a bumpy ride.
The first round of citizens’ comments was pretty brief. Kiawah resident Wendy Kulick prefaced her remarks by saying she was commenting for two people, but assured council the combined total would not exceed three minutes. She began by reading a letter from Art Morgenstern which read in part:
“I have repeatedly asked Town Council to accept its responsibility to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the community in regard to the Kiawah Island Utility backup water line, but you have consistently refused to do so. Even though you have failed to accept this responsibility for planning and oversight, I want to make sure you are aware of problems in the last 2 weeks [alone].
1. May 25 – Comcast cable line cut by contractor
2. May 28 – Contractor covered the street drain. This led to significant flooding (calls to [TOKI by a neighbor] were never returned)
3. June 6 – Berkeley Electric’s line to the neighborhood was cut
4. There have been delays every day entering and leaving the neighborhood
5. My wife and I were particularly inconvenienced by the electric outage on June 6 [and were late] for a volunteer assignment.
“In discussing these problems with Becky Dennis yesterday, I suggested that there needed to be a contingency plan developed to deal with how to handle these repeated problems. If the Town doesn’t consider itself capable of providing oversight of this, it should ask for help from the County.
“Additional problems which result from the loss of marsh due to the construction include increased flooding, particularly during storms, heavy rain and high tides. The Town’s emergency planning needs to account for this added risk, in addition to requiring the contractor to secure equipment, signs, etc. prior to and during storms. Please let me know how you plan to deal with this matter.”
The mayor and council offered answers before Kulick could race to the end of her own comments. Council collectively promoted the idea that private land on the Kiawah side of the project had precluded TOKI involvement.
Kulick then reminded council of its stated intent to respond to all questions asked in council meetings in the fifteen days allowed by the Freedom of Information Act. She also reminded them no responses had been posted online, as discussed, in nearly a year. “This Council continually talks about how important communication with property owners is, how you want to be transparent in the way you operate… My question is when will someone from the Town respond to all the questions posed and comments made and when will these comments be posted and shared with the public?” Kulick asked.
Architectural firm LS3P, which was involved from the start in designing the new municipal complex, also made a presentation.
They made good time, but the best way to describe over $429,000 worth of furniture and associated accoutrements is with pictures, and it’s easy to get lost. Renderings of the mayor’s empty office still seemed spacious after pictures of desks, tables, chairs and filing cabinets were layered over top with photos fabric swatches outside the frames.
SouthWest Water Company kept the lights dim for a second show. SWC is the proud new owner of KIU. Craig Sorenson provided an overview of the California based company, which is currently operating in four states (the complete presentation is available at town hall). However, the bulk of the report was a status of the project to construct a redundant water line to Kiawah.
The developer has stated the line is needed to “stabilize pressure at the eastern end of the island.”
The second line starts on Johns Island and requires “directional drilling” for 7,000 plus linear feet [at a depth of 75 feet] under the Kiawah River. The line will then wind its way around Marsh Island, Sweet Gum and down Governors Drive to the KIU facility in The Preserve. The project is divided between three contractors; part one (Johns Island) is being handled by Anson Construction Company, the drilling is being done by Mears and the open trench work on the Kiawah side is the responsibility of R H Moore.
Sorensen completed his demonstration and used a few of his “fifteen minutes of fame” to respond to some of the questions raised by Art Morgenstern. He said such projects were technically challenging and they hoped to finish by September. He also made a point of expressing relief the power outage was relatively short and was the only causality of the incident. “Usually, when you discover a power or gas line like that, the injuries can be much more serious,” concluded Sorensen.
The sole item of old business was a second reading of the budget. Councilmember Labriola said there had been seven changes:
1. Lease money received from the community association for the use of town hall was transitioned to lease money given to the association.
2. Payments to Thomas Engineering had been included
3. Money in the capital fund was broken out to the general fund
4. Funds for the convention bureau were moved from the general fund ledger to ATAX funds
5. Entry for the bid process and closing costs for the new Municipal Center were included
6. Allocated money for new employees was moved to more appropriate cost centers
7. The contribution for the developers “party in the park” was taken out The subject of new employees subsequently spawned a great debate. Two councilmembers, Weaver and Wilson, felt including up to two positions in the budget represented an obligation to hire without a supporting business case. Furthermore, statutory contributions to retirement accounts didn’t fully represent the cost of new hires. The Town Administrator pitched hard for the positions without discernable progress. However, no one wanted to hold up the budget so the matter will be tabled for 90 days. The budget passed unanimously.
There were eight items of New Business:
A. Blasé Keegal was added as a member of the MC Committee
B. Jim Jordan has been attending all recent town council meetings. This month, he was called on to request $10,000 toward each of two projects for the conservancy; alligator research and an alligator documentary. There were plenty of questions with councilmember Labriola wondering what the application was. Councilmember Weaver, in turn said he had been hard pressed to find anyone who had seen last year’s turtle documentary. Jordan said last year’s iteration had been used for the conservancy’s annual meeting and was on YouTube. The measure passed unanimously.
C. Councilmember Wilson moved to approve financing from Wells Fargo for the new MC. $3 million will be financed for up to 9 years at a rate of 2.24%. Much discussion followed and the measure passed unanimously.
D. The next two measures were for the purchase of three new trucks for the town, including one for the now tabled, new employee. Lots of questions were raised; did they all have to be four-wheel drive vehicles? Why they were more expensive than buying off the lot, were there a lot of options included etc.? The argument was made that the business case for the purchase had not really been made and the justification supplied seemed more like a pitch for Henderson Toyota. The purchases were ultimately approved. However, Wilson and Weaver voted against purchasing one of the vehicles (e.g. for the new “escrowed” employee).
E. The motion to approve the sale of the existing town hall to the community association was approved unanimously.
F. The motion to lease space in the existing town hall back from the community association was also approved unanimously. However, this was accompanied by a lengthy discussion of whether or not beach patrol could continue to store their equipment in what would soon be community association space. Council decided to table this part of the debate.
Councilmember Labriola reported the MC committee had met and work was underway. The site, he said, would “at level and dirt compacted” by early July and Cedrus, the firm managing the MC project would be providing weekly status reports. Labriola also reported TOKI’s long range financial plan was ready for review at the next meeting of the Ways and Means committee.
Mary Johnson said the environmental committee had 77 turtle nests to report [more since then] and announced the conclusion of this year’s Arts Council events. Councilmember Weaver had a lengthy Public Safety committee report.
1. The Comprehensive Emergency Plan, which had been skipped amidst last year’s tumult, is ready.
2. Fire safety recommendations (mandatory sprinklers, remote monitoring) were being reviewed for possible action by council.
3. Consistent with the CEP, an exercise has been scheduled. The point is a test of the interplay between TOKI, the resort and community association. A number of groups will support the exercise including the fire department and deputy staff forming two subgroups. The latter hatched a debate about TOKI’s contingent of county sheriffs; Do we really need as many as TOKI is currently using. This was followed by a lengthy debate about their status as employees of the town.
Councilmember Johnson then asked if she was the only member of council not invited to participate, but was encouraged to attend as an observer.
The town administrator had only the resignation of TOKI staffer Jack Raymond to report, but the mayor had plenty to talk about. The mayor is planning to follow through on a meeting with the mayor of Charleston.
The original purpose of the meeting was to discuss the completion of I526. However, the agenda has been updated to see if the project is really dead, and how its demise weighs on a proposed half cent sales tax intended for use to improve local roads.
The mayor finished his comments and the town’s attorney Dennis Rhoad stepped out from behind the dais again this month. This time, however, as a contributor to the second round of citizens comments.
The long standing TOKI attorney took to the podium to apologize to both Judge McGill and Wendy Kulick for comments made at the last meeting, and to announce his resignation effective January 1, 2017 (see related story in this issue of The Island Connection for further details).
Wendy Kulick was next with a couple of questions. She said “I believe this question has been raised by myself and others numerous times since 2011, yet to my knowledge, no response has been forthcoming, so I ask again: Why does Kiawah Island Utility not pay a franchise fee to the Town of Kiawah Island?
“As an intervenor in PSC docket 2012-252-WS, the Town took a very pro-active position with the Utility’s stock transfer [at the time]. And that was an internal stock transfer, not the sale to another company.
Why has the Town not intervened in the most recent stock transfer to an out-of state utility operator in early March? Since the Utility did not meet the PSC requirement of approving the sale of a utility or its assets by the PSC prior to the transaction taking place, does the Town consider the sale of the utility to SouthWest Water Company valid and legitimate? If not, what steps has the Town taken to address this with the [Public Service Commission] PSC?
Robert Manetta of Inlet Cove asked if TOKI had looked at development on the whole of Johns Island. “It affects us all,” he said. The mayor and councilmember Johnson both chimed in saying tens of thousands of building permits had been issued long ago and had been restrained only by a bad economy.
Manetta followed up with his primary concern of the congestion created on Beachwalker Drive by people visiting the park. Councilmember Weaver was quick to acknowledge the problem and said TOKI was doing all it could but was still looking for better solutions. Councilmember Johnson suggested the possibility of getting Beachwalker Park listed on an “APP” which would inform visitors the parking lot was full in advance of their arrival on Kiawah.
Kiawah resident Mike Shalosky was back in chambers this month asking about a mailer he had received from AirMedCare.
The brochure suggested a $35 fee would provide helicopter transport in the event of a life/limb threatening emergency.
Councilmember Weaver said TOKI had already joined AirMedCare on behalf of residents. Membership fees aren’t necessary for transport from Kiawah and only applies is a subscriber wanted access to the service in other areas.
Residents transported by any AirMedCare network provider from Kiawah, who are insured at time of transport, will have no out of pocket expense for the flight. Uninsured residents will be billed the Medicare allowable rate. It should also be noted however, there are multiple air transport services in the Lowcountry.
Questions raised during this discussion on the dynamics of how this plan would interact if another carrier provides transport, should be investigated and clarified.
Dennis McGill stood again to defend himself from the charge his FOIA suit was frivolous and had cost TOKI money. He asked earlier to review TOKI’s contract with Young, Clement, Richards.
However, neither the town nor YCR can produce a copy. TOKI was later asked who had engaged YCR and why when it was the town’s attorney (and his wife) who had ended up settling with McGill.
Councilmember Johnson cited TOKI’s longstanding relationship with YCR while the town’s attorney said litigation was not his area of expertise.
Craig Sorensen, SWC, made the last comment of the day, in response to Kulick’s questions about the sale of KIU. He said the purchase of the parent company, as opposed to KIU itself, had precluded TOKI involvement and said the PSC (Public Service Commission) had been informed of the transaction. There being no further business and no executive session, the meeting was adjourned.