By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
Seabrook residents were silent on Nov. 27. There were no questions or discussion initiated by attendees, after Town Council got an early start with public hearings on three ordinances; 2018- 10, 11, and 12 due for a second reading.
Town Administrator Joe Cronin said ordinance 2018-10 had been approved by both the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Planning Commission, though the Town was not legally required to seek their input. The measure brings Seabrook into compliance with state law and establishes a procedure for requesting meetings to review variance requests.
Ordinance 2018-11 in its first reading allows public notices of development standards to be sent electronically instead of being mailed. However, some late amendments included cutting back on the notifications to the person making the request.
Ordinance 2018-12 renames the Town of Seabrook Island Employee Packet to “… Handbook,” and adopts a new version of the tome.
The three ordinances would be ratified unanimously by a second reading later in the meeting.
The mayor reported an ever-improving overall fund balance for Seabrook to the tune of nearly $4.9 million. However, revenues missed their mark by $11,000 as a result of some late arriving accommodations tax money. The Town has received the funds, but not in time to be included in SITC’s monthly report. Expenses also took an unusual turn and were over budget by $85,000, the result of bills from roadwork coming due.
However, after warning people all year, the mayor didn’t need to remind attendees Seabrook had transferred last year’s excess to cover the work.
Councilmember John Gregg reported SITC succeeded in reinstating the “stand-by” contract with Rostan Solutions. The company provides debris removal monitoring services/metrics to Seabrook, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses as a foundation for reimbursement of disaster related expenses.
Gregg then took a moment to congratulate the ad hoc team assembled to revise SITC’s employee handbook. Mayor Ciancio added his own thanks/ congratulations for the amount of time invested, the amount of effort and attention to detail, and legal advice focused on the effort. The handbook includes several updates/clarifications of harassment, roles, confidential information, working hours, standards of conduct/penalties, and leave policy.
Gregg said the club’s Long Range Planning Committee did not meet last month, and his plan to transition Councilmember Finke into the role as SITC liaison has been placed in a defacto hold status. He said the Long Range Planning Committee has no plans to meet before next year’s election of board members, and that the transition might best coincide with that event. The rest of Council nodded their approval.
Gregg turned to a report of Seabrook’s Disaster Recovery Council. He reminded everyone last June’s emergency preparedness exercise was based on an earthquake scenario. The take away from the test left some question about what to do in the absence of outside help; what if bridges are out, staff is at home and can’t get to the island etc. The committee will flesh out what to do and begin work on adding their findings to the Town’s Comprehensive Emergency Plan, Gregg said.
Gregg concluded his segment by saying the Town had been in touch with representatives of the FEMA about reimbursement for expenses incurred in advance of hurricane Florence. He added that the Department of Health and Environmental Control would be in town reviewing debris reduction sites.
Councilmember Skip Crane said the ham radio training class held on Seabrook was a huge success. Ten people attended in all, and passed the test at the end of the seminar. He closed by emphasizing the importance of amateur radio as a method of emergency response.
Councilmember John Wells seemed to be in a celebratory mood, too. Work along Seabrook Island Parkway is all but complete, he reported.
Three flapper gates still need to be replaced, but SITC seems to have cleared the permitting obstacles. He responded to some questions he apparently received outside of the meeting about the adequacy of the repairs for flood mitigation.
What he said over a year ago bears repeating; “there’s not enough money in Texas,” to eliminate all flooding possibilities. He said the cost to raise the road to county dictated standards would cost approximately $800,000, but he thinks the current effort will stymie most flood situations, at which point the mayor joined the conversation.
Mayor Ciancio said that raising the road any further would be very expensive, and could possibly result in SITC instituting a tax. He went on to say such an effort would be for naught, given the presence of choke points along Bohicket and River roads the Town doesn’t control.
Councilmember Finke made a motion to approve $688 for the Seabrook Island Birders. Their brochure listing birds common to Seabrook is very popular, and they ran out of their last printing of 2,000 pamphlets. The requested funds will provide the group with 4,000 pamphlets. Because the budget for next year is already completed, some pirouettes were necessary to find excess cash in the current year’s register, but find it they did. The request was approved unanimously.
The mayor revisited Jim Bannwart’s retirement as commissioner of the Seabrook Island Utility. The decision necessitates an appointment to fill Bannwart’s unexpired term in office.
Careful review made the choice of Annie Smith-Jones to fill the vacancy clear. She will need to run again in 2023.
The mayor concluded by saying he had been contacted by a resident with questions about the bill from the Berkeley Electric Cooperative. Sure enough, franchise fees were billed in error and an audit revealed 46 additional accounts with mistakes.
Ciancio said Kiawah did the same audit with similar results. However, BEC representatives were very receptive and helpful in rectifying the problems, possibly going as far back as three years.
Town Administrator Joe Cronin announced a Christmas drop-in at Town Hall scheduled for Dec. 17 from 12–2 p.m. The “ugly” holiday sweater/ sweatshirt you never wear is about to turn to gold, because that’s the theme for the party. However, Cronin said you could drop off contributions to Toys for Tots anytime, including Dec.17.
Tim Morawski presented the report for SIU. He said the utility was down $75,000 for the year, and they couldn’t run on reserves forever. Consequently, there is a rate increase built in to next year’s budget, which roughly translates to $2.80/household/month. He said he didn’t think it was enough and said SIU may need to do it again, but emphasized that Seabrook’s rates were among the lowest in the area. Contrary to last month’s report, Morawski said a rate increase is also expected from Johns Island Water of about $1.20/household/month.
Ordinance 2018-13 was on the agenda for first reading. The measure is an effort to make Seabrook consistent with SC’s statutes. Seabrook determines the validity of setback lines for three years, while the state validates them for five. The measure passed unanimously.
Ordinance 2018-14 is Seabrook’s budget for next year.
Cronin was prepared with a slide show, and his account went on for some time.
To summarize, SITC will be building a garage next year, buying new vehicles for the Town, continuing with renovations to Town Hall, and increasing the employer contribution for staff health insurance from 50% to 100% to name a few. “The ‘Alcohol tax’ is not code for our town Christmas party,” he concluded.
The mayor stepped in again to congratulate everyone on a budget well done. He said there had been several, very long, very detailed meetings to develop a product the town is proud of creating. For complete details, visit town hall, SITC’s website, or give them a call. The measure passed unanimously.
The three ordinances on the agenda for second reading (see above) passed unanimously.
Seabrook resident Frank Stare asked if there was an update on the Senior Living facility at the open of citizen’s comments. The mayor said there wasn’t, but reiterated last month’s summary; depending on the result of mandatory pre-trial mediation, one or more trips to court could be on the horizon.
Seabrook resident Holly Bryan asked if the $2,500 SITC spent on software designed to ferret out unlicensed rental properties was working out. According to her calculations you would need to catch 250 people to make it worthwhile. Cronin replied they had found 15, that they got a deal because the county was already licensed, and there was no overlap in the searches done by the county and those done by Seabrook.
The meeting was adjourned, but the mayor couldn’t help himself. He moved to invalidate the scarlet and grey colors worn by this reporter. Luckily, there was no second to the Notre Dame fan’s motion.