By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
The New Year saw another public hearing during Seabrook Island Town Council’s (SITC) meeting on Jan. 22. There were no comments on Ordinance 2018-15, scheduled for its second reading and ratification later in the agenda. Mayor Ciancio then opened Council proceedings by confirming compliance with FOIA requirements, and approved several sets of minutes before turning to an uncharacteristically muddled financial report.
Last year’s effort to revamp and streamline Seabrook’s budget process apparently constituted a curveball to Duffy & Basha, CPAs. Town officials feared the worst when they noticed a total budget of $10,000 for fiscal 2019. The Town has 8 classes of business licenses, but only the least productive few were reflected in the December/year end report presented to SITC, and the most productive class  was missing entirely.
Mayor Ciancio made the best of it, however. Although he didn’t bother attempting a monthly accounting, he and SITC staff were able to report on the aggregate numbers for 2018, which were as good as or better than usual. Revenues came in over $300,000 above projections, while the Town incurred about $150,000 less in expenses than predicted. Details of the soon to be corrected report will be made available as soon as they are ready, concluded the Mayor.
Councilmember John Gregg said the Club’s Long Range Planning Committee did not meet last month as predicted, and added that no meeting is currently scheduled. His comment cast some doubt about the board meeting anticipated for February, at which time Councilmember Finke is to be transitioned into place as SITC’s liaison to the group.
Gregg said the Public Safety Committee met Jan. 14. The group has called into question recent efforts to line up volunteers willing and qualified to help (e.g. medical backgrounds, backhoe familiarity, experience in a commercial kitchen, etc.) in an emergency. Events like earthquakes are nearly impossible to anticipate and could leave the island isolated and without any staff available to assist if bridges are out, staff is at home, etc. The question of liability was raised regaring the use of volunteers instead of staff during the last meeting. The Town is seeking legal advice on how/if they can proceed in building the desired list, said Gregg.
He then augmented previous reports of meetings with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The most recent iteration saw the federal branch of FEMA reach some closure on expenses incurred as a result of Hurricane Florence. Seabrook applied for over $28,000 in relief, of which the federal component of FEMA agreed to reimburse about $21,000. The amount does not reflect the possibility of further reimbursement from the SC Emergency Management Division (the state level element of FEMA), which could increase Seabrook’s total refund.
Gregg concluded his remarks with the comment that the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control visited the island on Jan. 9.
The purpose of DHEC’s visit was inspecting the Town’s storm debris reduction/storage sites. He noted the accumulated debris behind the Andell Inn would have to be removed before it could be certified by the state agency.
Councilmember Wells said work on the last three valves along Seabrook Island Rd. is underway, and could be completed by the end of the month. He also reported there would be a box placed near Captain Sams inlet in anticipation of this year’s dolphin education program, stocked with chairs, umbrellas, and etc. The “supplies” will be stored there to make volunteering for the program easier this year than last (e.g. walking 1.5 miles in the rain to fetch an umbrella will no longer be necessary, for example). He also said last year’s four hour shifts would be replaced by two hour shifts. Although he didn’t say so, moves to lighten the load suggests it’s time to think about volunteering for 2019.
Councilmember Finke reminded Council the idea of Seabrook instituting a ban on single use plastics was broached during the Ways and Means Committee meeting earlier in January.
Consequently, she advised SITC her planned article on the topic of offshore drilling would be replaced by one on the topic of plastics. The move could leave Kiawah as the sole remaining coastal community without an ordinance banning single use plastics, just as the state legislature reintroduces a bill prohibiting local bans.
Mayor Ciancio opened his remarks by announcing the formation of a new committee. The Mayor, the town administrator, and Councilmembers Gregg and Finke will work to improve SITC’s efficiency, said Ciancio. He was quick to point out the idea was to find ways to improve the way Council functions and not to correct any abstract deficiency. He hopes to have a draft proposal together in May.
Perhaps buoyed by the prospect of completing I-526, the Mayor reported a long discussion with county officials on additional plans to improve Johns Island roads. Ciancio reported one possibility included widening Main/Bohicket Rd. starting at Bees Ferry, in three stages; to River Rd., to Maybank, and the third stage link to Betsy Kerrison. Alternatively, the “Cross Island Parkway” is also back on the table, he said.
Town Administrator Joe Cronin had a lengthy report starting with a follow up to previous discussions of a master plan for Seabrook Island Rd.
Council approved a $33,500 contract with ESP Associates to study the route for possible/general improvements, and another $48,000+ for permitting and engineering work to improve drainage beyond existing repairs, which are nearly completed.
Council then approved;
- Extensions to a pair of active building permits; 2708 Jenkins Point Rd. will have an extra 90 days, and 3143 Marsh Gate Ln. will have an extra 6 months.
- A temporary use permit allowing the club to use temporary office space. However, since the club went for forgiveness instead of permission before making the move, the permit may have to be renewed.
- Charleston County’s access to the island to inspect homes with repeated flood loss claims. Cooperation could help improve Seabrook’s flood insurance rates.
- Declaring the Town’s 2008 Jeep Wrangler as surplus property for disposal or sale.
If he was trying to sell it, Cronin didn’t paint a pretty picture. He said $850 was required to get the vehicle to the point where an assessment could done on the cost of repairing multiple, remaining issues.
However, the Town will be opening up a bid process soon.
Ordinance 2018-15 was on the agenda for its second reading/ratification. Seabrook often exercised what had long been considered the option of changing dates when council meetings fell in the same week as a holiday. The measure changes “holiday” to “national holiday,” and “shall” to “can.” The ordinance passed unanimously.
Asked for an update on encroachment permits along Seabrook Island Rd., the Mayor said the required mediation would yield a decision by Jan. 24. If all parties agree with the resulting compromise, the measure will come back to Council for a vote. Otherwise, the matter will be the subject of litigation.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting of the Seabrook Island Town Council will be Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 2:30 p.m.