By Gregg Bragg, Staff Writer for The Island Connection
The March 27 meeting of Seabrook Island Town Council (SITC) included another public hearing, this time with a twist. Seabrook resident Phil Squire broke the usual silence to ask if the transfer of Accommodations Tax (ATax) funds sanctioned by ordinance 2018-02 was appropriate and available for use toward beach patrol. Mayor Ron Ciancio responded by reiterating last month’s description of the funds.
The mayor said the state mistakenly gave the money to the county, which is now being conveyed to Seabrook after two years of wrangling. Combined with ATax funds Seabrook knew about during the budget process, the extra funds allow for a reshuffling of the distribution amongst tourism related activities, which includes beach patrol.
The mayor segued to his financial report, and opened again by touting an overall fund balance, which has grown to over $4.6 million. Revenues for February were under projections for the second consecutive month, the result of “log jam” in business licenses expected to level out. Expenses were also less than expected because of roadway expenses yet to be incurred.
Councilmember John Gregg reported the Club’s Long Range Planning Committee did not meet in March. He expects he will have a report on the group’s activities next month. The Public Safety Committee met on March 12 and advanced the bidding process on a contingent contract for storm debris removal, which will probably replace the existing “standby” contract with Phillips & Jordan. Gregg then pivoted to the revamped subject of refrigerator magnets imprinted with updated emergency contact information.
The idea is ease of access for both residents and renters alike. Gregg said “up to” 2400 magnets were being requested at a cost of $1,258.00. Council member Jeri Finke expressed doubts about the number being requested, but said she was ok with the “up to” language in the request. She and the rest of SITC voted to approve funds needed, just in time for Disaster Awareness Day.
DAD is scheduled for Wednesday, June 13. The annual event will be hosted by the town of Kiawah at a place to be announced. This is the first time in four years Kiawah has hosted the affair. The event will include things you can do to prepare for hurricanes and other emergencies, and where to go and how to get there if residents decide to leave the Lowcountry in the run up to a storm. Speakers typically include members of the St. Johns Fire District, Charleston County Emergency Services and the SC branch of the Federal Emergency Agency. Details will be announced soon.
Gregg updated SITC on claims made to FEMA saying the town’s request for public assistance was less for Irma than it was for Matthew, but still worth the time. The total sum received by Seabrook was just shy of $107,000 from Matthew and he expects something similar for Irma. Councilmember Skip Crane was on vacation and Finke had no report, clearing the way for councilmember John Wells.
Wells reported on progress with the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network, the group set to begin an education/ protection program this year for strand feeding dolphins on Seabrook beaches. He said a digital copy of the one-year contract would be provided to SITC members and residents, which he said was “well thought out.” For example, concerns LMMN may collect and report violations that might weigh against future beach re-nourishment requests are mitigated by a clause requiring SITC review and approval prior to publication.
Wells also reported on the posting of a request for proposal in local papers. He said SITC has three responses in hand (including Robert George & Associates – the firm that has assisted with the permitting/easements process). Salvageable pipes will be lined with fiberglass and any that aren’t will be replaced for a total distance of 385 feet.
The same can be said of repairing/ replacing flapper gates, two of which are fully “permitted” for work to proceed. Wells concluded his report by observing Bohicket Marina was planning to repave their road, and had been made aware of the SITC project and the ramifications a dip at their entrance could have on the overall project.
The mayor augmented Wells’ report with the announcement of potential new facilities adjacent to Seabrook Island Rd. Representatives of a prospective senior care/assisted living facility are giving local officials a “heads up” about the possibility a (119+ bed) facility between Freshfields and Seabrook town hall. Construction and a long-term entrance to the facility will require access via Seabrook’s road. The idea of an emergency medical facility on the opposite side of the road is also being floated. The ramifications to the current drainage project are being considered as they relate to both projects, said the mayor before beginning his own remarks.
Ciancio, now making his own report, said Seabrook needs to consider Kiawah’s lead on rental properties. Vacation homes contribute to the island’s income in the form of licensing and sidestepping the process through online ads dilutes the town’s finances. The mayor said Kiawah insists a business license number be included on all online ads, among other requirements. “We need to take a look at doing something similar during the next meeting of the Ways and Means Committee,” he said. Ciancio concluded his comments by saying SITC needed to get a jump on updating the town’s comprehensive plan to stay ahead of its expiration date.
Town administrator Joe Cronin detailed the schedule for this year’s beach patrol, which are available on the town’s new website.
Cronin said a new web hosting service was available to the town for the already low price of $300/month, but added that a “if you call right now” option existed, which could save the town money. $225 was subsequently approved by SITC.
Cronin suggested establishing a policy and possible charges for use of town property (the upcoming yard sale, for example).
Article 2, chapter 4 of the town’s code addresses the possibility, but not to the degree he thinks it should. He is working on draft language for an amendment to be considered in the near future.
Jim Bannwart reported normal operations at the Seabrook Island Utility for the preceding month. He cautioned residents that work on the island’s manholes was commencing and that the previously reported hike in water rates would soon hit residents with about $.88/ month in additional charges.
Ordinance 2018-03 was unanimously approved for a first reading. The measure would transfer 2731 Old Oak Walk (ultimately) to the Greenspace Conservancy.
Mayor Ciancio asked for a motion to approve the second reading of Ordinance 2018-02, to amend the 2018 budget and appropriate $65,000 from Seabrook’s ATax Fund. The measure passed unanimously.
Phil Squire asked if SITC had considered its own police force. The mayor said they had not, and felt it would jeopardize Seabrook’s ability to make annual additions to the town’s emergency fund while Cronin argued it would cost more to administer than they paid in salaries. Asked later about his motive for the question, Squire pointed to the time it takes for help to arrive.
Mayor Ciancio adjourned the meeting with the announcement he would be part of the Charleston and Charleston County Johns Island Growth Committee.