By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
The January 10, 2017 meeting of Town of Kiawah Island (TOKI) was called to order a little early.
Mayor Weaver broke with tradition by making his comments at the start of the meeting, in part to explain some tweaks to the agenda. He thanked everyone for “the great turnout,” and introduced the new council. He said council member comments would continue to appear in the same place on the agenda, but would be combined with committee reports to save time. Weaver went on to say public hearings would be combined with the regularly scheduled council meeting, instead of holding a separate meeting for them.
“We used to hold them at 1:30, and they would last five minutes, and everyone was left to wait around for half an hour,” he explained to appreciative laughs. The comfortable tone continued when he asked attendees to, “hang with us. This is our first meeting and it’s not like we’ve had a chance to rehearse.” He opened the first round of Citizens Comments and asked participants to respect established time limits.
Resident Andy Capelli opened the segment by commending council for intervening in the Kiawah Island Utility (KIU) rate case [KIU has filed for a 25.57 percent increase]. He said KIU’s claim to redundancy associated with the $10 million installation of a second water line had never been challenged. He insisted the developer should pay for the second line if it was added solely for the benefit of the Ocean Park subdivision.
Wendy Kulick reminded council and the town’s new attorney that both she and Diane Lehder have loads of experience on previous rate cases with KIU and offered assistance. Kulick went on to protest the current spattering of committee openings, which she said have not been advertised by TOKI. The mayor interjected, asking Kulick to save those questions until the end of the meeting, at which time, he said, her comments or questions should be addressed. Kulick closed her remarks by offering to help TOKI staff transcribe meeting minutes etc.
Kiawah resident Dennis McGill also thanked council for intervening in the KIU rate case. McGill’s research found TOKI invested only $5,000 intervening in previous rate cases, and he wondered why the town was willing to spend up to $30,000 on the current case. The town’s attorney explained $30,000 was a cap on expenses, and not necessarily an indication of what would be spent.
Becky Dennis, a representative of KIU, defended the redundancy of the second water line. She made reference to a public presentation done several times for TOKI and other local officials, which noted 40 breaks in the original line. Dennis made special mention of an incident on December 27th, which left the island without water for 2 ½ days. KIU managed the situation through a combination of reserves and voluntary restrictions on irrigation. Dennis implied the measures would not have necessary with the second line in place, and used the example as a counter to Capelli’s comments.
The presentation by the utility representative’s comments made the perfect segue to the only old business item on the agenda, the KIU rate increase. The town’s attorney was prepared, precise, and spoke clearly in presenting three different options to council:
1. Simply monitor the situation, preserving funds while retaining the ability to scale up activity as needed.
2. Engage TOKI preferred attorney, Frank Ellerbe to negotiate a settlement. The budgeted amount for this option is $30,000. TOKI’s attorney cautioned the Public Service Commission (PSC) was not obliged to accept such a settlement. However, Ellerbe would be working with the Office of Regulatory Staff [research arm of the PSC] toward a compromise, which the PSC typically does appreciate.
3. Engage TOKI preferred attorney Frank Ellerbe, empowering him to hire experts and fully litigate the case, which could end up costing in the neighborhood of $100,000.
Jack Koach asked if anyone else was intervening and was informed the Kiawah Island Community Association (KICA) had also filed. TOKI will remain “the client” in the case, and KICA will pay half the legal costs.
The mayor made a motion to select option #2 with the estimated $30,000 to be shared by KICA, subject to approval by the Ways and Means Committee. Council member Koach asked if there would be a separate agreement with KICA, and was informed there would be. The measure passed unanimously and attention shifted to new business.
1. Council member John Wilson was appointed Mayor Pro Tempore
2. Committee assignments include;
a. The mayor will be the liaison to KICA, Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR), Kiawah Partners (KP), Northwoods [Freshfields], Seabrook Island, Charleston County, and the Charleston Area Rapid Transit Authority (CARTA).
b. Council member Wilson will chair Ways and Means, be liaison to the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments (CBCDGOG), off island transportation initiatives, and will be proxy to the Charleston area transportation study.
c. Council member Widuch will chair the Public Safety Committee, be liaison to the Municipal Center Committee, and the communications workgroup.
d. Council member Diana Mezzanotte will chair Arts Council, the Environmental Committee, and be liaison to the conservancy.
e. Council member Koach will be the liaison to the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, and State Accommodations Tax Committee (SATAX).
3. The existing town treasurer was re-appointed along with the existing town clerk
4. Dwayne Green was appointed the new town attorney.
5. Attention then turned to committee appointments. Committees saw a high rate of return from existing members with one notable exception. Former council member John Labriola rolled off the Municipal Committee when he decided not to run for re-election. Labriola’s expertise was deemed so valuable, however, council decided to replace him with himself. Council member Diana Mezzanotte announced a future opening on the Arts Council, saying open positions would be advertised. The mayor followed her comments by introducing a charter and reconstitution plans for the town’s Public Works Committee. Members will be sought and positions advertised as TOKI moves to their new building.
6. Amendments to the Construction Committee charter passed unanimously along with an amendment to the Public Works charter.
The Town Administrator’s report consisted of a hurricane cleanup overview presented by Rusty Lameo. Immediately following the storm the town engaged in an intensive three day “cut and push” followed by three weeks of cleanup, he said.
Waste materials consisted of 800 – 1000 tons of construction material, and 1300 tons of vegetation, said Lameo. The town has incurred $573,000 [so far] in cleanup expenses. TOKI was also able to add another $226,000 from KICA to the tally [e.g. $800,000]. He also said TOKI succeeded in getting reimbursement requests submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in a timely fashion. He said requests received in the first 30 days after an event were reimbursed by FEMA at a rate of 85 percent. Requests received 60 days after an event were reimbursed at 80 percent, and requests received beyond that were reimbursed at a rate of 75 percent.
Lameo had lot of praise for FEMA and said he had not been getting much pushback from them.
Lameo said the dunes were starting to rebuild, but it could be years before they fully recover. 80 percent of the boardwalks had been damaged or destroyed, he said.
“It’s our letter [from TOKI] that starts the clock running on [dock] repairs,” the mayor prompted, and Lameo was quick to confirm he had contacted everyone affected by the storm. “$800,000 is a lot. Please stay on top of that,” requested the mayor.
Council member Mezzanotte reported several successful Arts Council events, and detailed a number of upcoming events. For a complete listing, visit www.kiawahisland.org. She also reported the Environmental Committee had not met in January, but is planning to meet on February 14th.
Council member Wilson reported meeting with the Johns Island task force. He said they had a list of road priorities [previously reported by The Island Connection] they were planning to present to county council. The list does not include I-526, which he attributed to the Coastal Conservation League’s participation on the task force. However, Wilson also reported meeting with A. Victor “Vic” Rawl, recently elected Chairman of Charleston County Council.
Wilson said Rawl was familiar with Johns Island roads, and credited Rawl with saying some of the half cent tax could be used to complete I-526, at least as far as Johns Island. Council member Widuch reported having an opening on the Public Safety Committee that will be advertised.
Kiawah resident Wendy Kulick kicked off the second round of comments saying “An article in the Post and Courier on December 15, 2016, noted indictments against officials of St. Paul’s Fire District after an audit found budget irregularities…. We’ve numerous, similar examples. In July 2015 Dixon Hughes Goodman issued a report detailing their findings after a review of [TOKI] financial records. The town has yet to report any indictments or arrests of the former town administrator or treasurer, despite detailed documentation of their alleged embezzlement. When can we expect action to be taken?” The mayor and several council members were quick to respond they were doing all they could, shared her frustration, and would not let this fall through the cracks.
Ginny Abbot was in chambers on behalf of four of the regimes on the island. Windswept I, II, II and Parkside all make use of boardwalk 22, which was all but destroyed by Matthew. Regime representatives are campaigning for a solution to the heavily utilized beach access (See The Island Connection; Letter to the Editor). Abbot urged TOKI to add their voices to the raft of property owners demanding a fix from KICA.
Dave DeStefano asked council if there was any truth to the rumor TOKI was planning to buy more land adjacent to the new municipal center. He was assured there were no such plans.
Dennis McGill returned to the podium with questions about council’s decision to hire outside legal assistance in the KIU rate case. He wondered why the added expense of outside council was necessary, and why the resort was not sharing costs with TOKI.
The town’s attorney was quick to say he would do all he could to facilitate negotiations and save TOKI as much as possible, but said Frank Ellerbe had unrivaled expertise in this area the town should leverage. Roger Warren, President of KIGR, had the room in stitches when he said, “we even buy water we don’t want. We’re still pumping and paying for water when it rains. We hate when it rains,” to illustrate his interest in utility rates. However, Warren was more somber in communicating this was a job local government should handle without his help.
Marilyn Larach, past President of the Kiawah Property Owners Group thanked council for their intervention in the KIU rate case. “This isn’t a lot of money [$30,000] compared to past efforts,” she said.
There being no further business and a seemingly deliberate “None” under the agenda item, “Executive Session,” the meeting was adjourned.