By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
Eager silence filled Seabrook Island town council chambers as the mayor toed the starting line, one eye on the clock’s sweep hand. Opening procedures were given the “go ahead” by clerk Faye Allbritton and three sets of minutes were ratified as quickly as they were mentioned. Anticipation continued to mount in the run up to the financial report for February, however, since the January report had lacked its customary luster.
Mayor Ciancio didn’t have to say “I told you so,” in part because he already had. True to last month’s prediction, a lag in anticipated business license applications had corrected itself and come through in spades. January’s revenue shortfall of $18,000 had transformed into a $57,000 thrashing of February projections, putting SITC back in front of its annual income budget. The town also spent $18,000 less than anticipated in February for a net savings of $50k to date. The Seabrook Island Utility followed suit with financials which displayed similar improvements.
Scheduled meter readings leveled off for SIU and dovetailed with the February reporting period. Leap Year may get some of the credit, but revenues were back in line with expectations after January’s technical shortfall. Jeff Bostock said it was a quiet month for SIU which he further characterized as “abnormally normal,” despite more water being pumped for irrigation purposes in February.
The mayor reported on behalf of councilmember Gregg for the public safety committee. The committee has embraced results of emergency preparedness drills conducted last June (2015) and again in January (2016). Resulting discussions have produced several updates to the Comprehensive Emergency Plan including;
1. Public Safety will collect and disseminate information on conditions (flooding/storms).
2. Eliminating references to “OPCON-3” as a [e.g. 72 hour] warning status, opting instead to mirror the vernacular which will soon be deployed by Charleston County authorities.
3. Reserve the option to advise action independently of state/local government as warranted
4. Procedures for Code Red have been revised.
5. SITC Executive Official will decide to attend state/local disaster response meetings or delegate participation to a liaison.
6. Instructions for conducting damage assessment changed to include calling 911, if searchers find anyone in need of help. Searchers are also instructed and to stay on the scene until that help arrives.
Councilmember Crane stressed the importance of early evacuations before the updates were passed unanimously. Full details are available at town hall.
Councilmember John Turner gave his report on the communications committee. Tests of SITC’s emergency communications system (radios, connected with first responders) had resulted in some frustration. Residents could hear, but not talk to first responders on designated channels as hoped. Errant settings were discovered and corrected and the discussion bled into the role of the Seabrook Island Community Emergency Response Team. SICERT Captain John Reynolds’ notion of “block captains” tending an assigned area has gained traction. SITC is looking for as many as ten hearty SICERT members to assist SITC; 1. Observe conditions 2. Identify and assist residents in need and 3. Disseminate information after a disaster.
Turner, with community association support, has also been trying to schedule a debate on offshore drilling on April 20.
The plan was to educate both Seabrook and Kiawah residents on the full breadth of the issue. Representatives from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Charleston County Council and College of Charleston had been lined up as well as the Energy Alliance, a pro drilling group.
However, there has been a sea change in the subject. Recent federal rulings have freed mid/southern Atlantic communities from the threat of drilling and the planned debate may be on hold.
Mayor Ciancio also reported for councilmember John Wells beginning with the drainage system from town hall to the traffic circle. Three drainage systems on the left side of the road revealed 50 percent blockage and of the 6 flood control valves in the system, 5 are shot and one is missing entirely. The right (bike path) side of the road utilizes a “french drain” system currently considered bad. Action was essential, said the mayor as he began a discussion of the costs of the big ticket project.
Resolving the issue of drainage means hiring engineers, establishing a budget and planning for the potential inconveniences associated with a three year project.
Money from the general fund will pay for some of the work as well as any budget surpluses. Historically, SITC deposits unallocated money to an emergency fund, which now stands at around $1.5 million.
Future contributions will be diverted to drainage repair for the duration of the job. This makes last years’ un-deposited budget windfall all the more welcome.
Councilmember Skip Crane took the reins with brief reports on meetings with the community association, the first under a newly elected board, and Camp St. Christopher.
Sue Ingram, Chair of SITC’s accommodations tax committee (ATAX), recommended support for several local advertising projects. The now familiar list includes $16,500 for Kick it at Bohicket, $5,000 for the Alan Fleming Senior Tennis Tournament and $3,500 for the Billfish Tournament. The mayor chimed in to say the recommended amounts had been addressed in the budget and agreement to proceed with the planned sponsorships was approved unanimously.
Mayor Ciancio opened his remarks by revisiting the subject of consolidating Seabrook’s advertising. Many of the several entities on the island with advertising budgets have gone their own way in the past. The question of improving the effect of such efforts through combining and sharpening their focus, is being considered. The rest of his report doubled as a laundry list of “new business.”
1. SITC unanimously agreed to solicit bids to address “drainage issues” and to form a review committee. Members of the committee will include John Wells, John Turner, Randy Pierce, Jeff Bostick and possibly others.
2. The property at Ocean Forrest has been moved the court systems consent calendar, said the mayor. Claimants in the case have all agreed to foreclose on the parcel. The final phase of the case will begin mid-April and be resolved 60 days later.
3. SITC voted unanimously to use the same advertising agency as their counterparts.
4. Unanimous agreement on a balanced budget was achieved and included the option of a mayoral override, which will be limited to the budgets ceiling
5. Municipal Judge O’Neill was unanimously approved for another four year term on the bench
6. SITC unanimously approved changes to the Comprehensive Emergency Plan, described earlier in the meeting
There were no citizens comments and mayor Ciancio adjourned the meeting in 35 minutes, breaking the record set the previous month, except, hold on, wait for it. There were two more items not listed on the agenda, the mayor wanted to mention.
1. He and the mayor of Kiawah had collaborated on a letter sent to the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The three page letter to Robert Clark formally requests SCDOT conduct another “safety audit” of Main/Bohicket road.
2. The mayor officially acknowledged the BOEM announcement there would be no oil exploration in the mid/south Atlantic. The meeting re-adjourned.