By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
The Oct. 27 meeting of Seabrook town council started at the tick of 2:30 p.m. There was a disappointing lack of fanfare for the last meeting of this assembly of council (e.g. No cake? Seriously?). Neither Mayor Ahearn nor councilmember Romano were attempting re-election. Mayor Pro Tem Ron Ciancio was forced to wait until the end of the meeting to arrest what seemed like a headlong rush for the door to call attention to the fact He thanked Romano for his term in office and celebrated Mayor Terrence Ahearn’s retirement after serving Seabrook the last four years. “I’ve never worked with better people,” he said, later in the meeting. The Mayor’s last financial report was consistent with past victories.
“We are doing well overall. [Increased] Licensing fees were not included in the budget for this year so we are running quite a bit ahead [of budget] and really need to build the Emergency Fund and avoid [instituting] any municipal taxes,” said the Mayor. Seabrook’s financial condition can be summarized as having earned more and spent less, in the current calendar year, for an accumulated total of $313,000. The figure is over $150,000 ahead of the same time last year. Ron Ciancio chimed in to remind the room how essential building up reserves was.
The current $1.5 million held by Seabrook seems like plenty until you consider Kiawah feels the recently reported $16 million is a necessary minimum.
Danielle Snider, Director for the 2016 Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament, addressed council, requesting sponsorship of their event.
The tournament, scheduled before the beginning of “tourism season,” would benefit the town in a number of ways, asserted Snider. Twenty-five to 30y participating boats generate fees Dockmaster Bryan Richardson appreciates. The event also brings 400 anglers, 200 sponsor attendees and up to a thousand spectators to the area, boosting revenues for area businesses. The Town of Seabrook would also benefit in a number of ways, she elaborated.
The $3.5,000 sponsorship of the tournament would mean the logo for the Town of Seabrook will be featured prominently on all print and digital media. The latter includes Facebook, Twitter and will be expanded to include Instagram for the 2016 iteration of the event. Merchandise would also feature Seabrook’s logo but it was the tournament’s conservation measures that may have won the day for Snider. The early days of the 26 year old tournament saw a 90 percent kill rate.
Statistics like these were behind council member John “Jodi” Turner’s objections to supporting the tournament. However, the event has evolved, currently reflecting a 90 percent tag and release rate. Combined with contributions to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) intended to make offshore fishing sustainable, the pitch for town support was more palatable. Turner would later join in a unanimous vote in favor of sponsoring the tournament.
Councilmember Don Romano gave his last installment of Community Relations, reporting on the Seabrook Island Property Owners (SIPOA) strategic plan. He reiterated the now familiar seven strategic objectives; Audubon certification, assisting new owners, a dog park etc. The list of items slated for action in the near term will be addressed by the Board of Governors. However, it was his mention of the Gateway Project that garnered the most attention.
Seabrook resident Philip Squire peppered Romano specifically and council in general with questions about the proposed gatehouse. Romano was accommodating but wasn’t able to answer all of the questions posed about the project, which is still being planned by SIPOA. Discussion went on and included a range of topics in succession, ending with long infamous “[Adams Family] House Located at 1126 Ocean Forrest Lane.”
Progress summed to a hearing scheduled by the Master In Equity (MIE) for November 5th, responded Ron Ciancio. Although hopes of a resolution remain high, the impression from the last two council meetings suggested dramatic action had been possible much sooner.
Ciancio, anxious to respond and, at the same time, be supportive said, “The town does have condemnation authority but runs the risk of getting sued.” He went on to remind attendees, Carl Simmons, Director of Charleston County Building Services, had warned any action prior to a ruling by the MIE comes with the risk of legal repercussions.
Councilmember John Gregg paused for the all clear signal before giving his Community Relations report on the Seabrook Island Club. Attempts by the club and SIPOA to get feedback have generally taken the form of surveys. Participation has declined to the point of questioning their value and accuracy.
SIPOA, for example, has abandoned plans for a full blown census. However, the club is working with SIPOA to improve questionnaires generally and pare the next effort down to as few as five questions. Results will be posted and anonymity will be protected. “Knowing [factors like] fulltime/part time status, age etc. are relevant in determining needs,” said Gregg before beginning his report on the Public Safety Committee, which had met on Oct. 25.
Gregg again expressed hope there are still opportunities to improve on flood insurance rates for Seabrook residents. “Storm Ready” certification might help, he proffered, and would certainly help from a preparation standpoint. It could also contribute to maintaining their shiny new level 5 certification, [mentioned last month].
County approval of the town’s hazard mitigation plan is another piece of the same puzzle, continued Gregg, though the specific advantages are still being worked out for review and approval of town council. He concluded his report with a discussion of the recent flooding.
Every effort to make residents aware of the situation with road closures and safety issues had been brought to bear and suggestions were always welcome.
Councilmember Turner didn’t have a committee report but put his turn at the lectern to good use. Roads were the underlying theme and Turner said he thought The Island Connection newspaper needed to help raise awareness of the issue. Arrangements were made after the meeting to connect Seabrook’s council with inflight efforts on Johns Island and Wadmalaw.
Ron Ciancio reported on his plan to spend less and get more from Seabrook’s contract with Obviouslee Marketing.
His report led to votes on all related new business. The agreement with Obviouslee, the Town’s marketing plan, and participation in the 2016 Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament were all approved unanimously.
The SIPOA recycling agreement was also approved unanimously for $52/ton. The new arrangement will require payment in advance. Despite previous reports, the association may remain as the point of contact. A discussion of drone utilization on the island was tabled. There was general agreement to find out more about the type of storm/ lightning warning systems used by golf courses. Providing such a warning system could suggest legal liability, for example, so council is proceeding with some caution.
The Mayor asked for council’s consideration of $20,000 in support of Sgt. Phillips request to support youth monitoring programs in the Lowcountry.
Jeff Bostock reported the Seabrook Island Utility (SIU) had generated a profit for the second month running.
More to the point, he said there had been no failures reported during all of the past month’s flooding and emergency protocols had been implemented and proven adequate. There were two minor South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) citations, both of which were addressed but deemed anomalous. The first was a slightly elevated volume [of water] going through the system and the other was a minor increase in the amount of dissolved oxygen. Bostock concluded his report by saying SIU had incurred additional costs as a result of the flooding in the form of renting three additional pumps and staff overtime totaling $7,200.
Mayor Pro Tem Ciancio moved to add an additional $20,000 to the budget, “[To] look into solutions to assure we can get off the island in the event of more flooding.” Discussion revealed the funds would be taken from the projected $175,000 surplus in the current budget. The measure and the revised 2016 budget passed unanimously.
Seabrook resident Cherrie Squire had a number of questions for the last installment of Citizens’ comments;
1. Is there a fine for violations of the town’s new beach ordinance?
• Yes, but there is some debate about whether sheriffs will fine for local violations or only violations of county ordinances.
2. Concerned by flooding related and potentially unapproved repairs on Seabrook, she asked if the town still employs anyone to enforce building permits.
• Yes, for 15 – 20 hours/week
Seabrook Resident Phillip Squire asked if the Freedom of Information Act allowed him to attend meetings between members of Seabrook’s council and other governing bodies on the island. He was informed the meetings did not include a quorum of council members, were not considered “public” and therefore were not subject to FOIA. There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.