By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
“Lets go ahead and get started,” Mayor Ahearn said in place of a gavel as he opened Seabrook’s Sept. 22 town council meeting. Plenty of residents, and all of council, were present as recent trends of well attended meetings continued. Everyone seemed ready for the sense of direction while no one looked surprised to hear clerk Allbritton say the town had complied with the Freedom of Information Act.
Financials for the month of August were strong per expectations. Revenues displayed an extra $3,000 while expenses consumed $5,000 more than expected.
Though the mayor reported expenses were still $10,000 under budget for the year, and $24,000 less than last year at the same time, reported the mayor. Once again, credit for the abundance was awarded to an increase in business license fees enacted after the budget was finalized. The mayor concluded by making the point Seabrook has an extra $321,000 for this budget year putting the town ahead of pace to contribute to the emergency fund.
Deputy Sheriff Sheperd was the first presentation of the day, reporting on beach patrol activities for the summer.
He stressed the focus of his patrols was safety but, also reported an average of 25-42 warnings, mostly for violations of the leash law at the west end of Seabrook.
Sheperd had no trouble holding the floor, spicing his speech with some of the anecdotes accumulated in his six years on the island;
1. Although no shark bites had been reported this year, three bonnet head bites had been in the past, though no one sought medical attention. Sheperd used the opportunity to applaud Seabrook’s “anti-chumming” ordinance. He also cautioned council that by-catch dumped by boats en-route to Bohicket could draw the wrong sort.
2. Some time ago, an 11 year old was lost but then he was found.
3. An adult also went missing earlier this very year. The first things found were a pair of shoes and foot prints which eventually lead a search team to Kiawah and the missing person.
4. A distraught newlywed asked for help finding her ring. A search produced the wrong ring (still in custody, incidentally) and a sad visitor who was grateful for the assistance all the same.
Carl Simmons, Director of Charleston County Building Services, was back this month. The hoped for “lightning strike” resolution to “House located at 1126 Ocean Forrest lane,” is still a month away said Simmons. Progress in the form of establishing clear title (after seven years, as previously reported) and identifying seven concerned parties has been made, however. New information on the case is still before the Master In Equity.
Simmons recommended doing nothing until the MiE rules, citing several failed attempts by others to argue with MiE staff. Once a ruling is made, however, it will be possible to send a letter , which would require a response within ten days.
Simmons reiterated his promise to do so while reassuring council, legal expenses alone would force the issue closed but he wasn’t finished.
Simmons went on to congratulate council for achieving a level 5 Community Rating Service designation for flood insurance. Seabrook previously held a level 6 designation and the difference means approximately $40,000 in savings for residents of Seabrook. Although further improvements will be next to impossible for an Island community, councilmember John Gregg, long a champion of the cost saving efforts, suggested attempting “Storm Ready” status might be worth the effort. On the way out of the meeting, Simmons would embellish his praise by describing level 5 as “rare air.”
Councilmember Romano reported meeting with the property owners association again in September. The Property and Landscape Improvement Committee discussed ways to embellish “curb appeal.” The discussions are aimed at retaining coveted Audubon Society awards and possibly securing a level 2 certification. SIPOA surveys conducted to help with certification have garnered 25-30 percent response rates in the past.
However, a 100 percent response rate is the goal. The SIPOA survey will consist of 5-9 questions, Romano pitched while assuring everyone responses would be kept confidential. He concluded his report by saying the gatehouse committee has a design but now expects resolution in 2017.
Councilmember Gregg advised attendees the club’s long range planning committee met on Sept. 17. Results of its survey are still being digested for incorporation into the strategic plan due in 2016. Gregg then reported on the topic of the Public Safety Committee, which had met on Sept. 14.
Gregg expressed hope there are still opportunities to improve on flood insurance rates for Seabrook residents.
“Storm Ready” certification might help, he proffered, and would help from a preparation standpoint. It could also contribute to maintaining their shiny new level 5 certification. 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 sussed out for review and possible approval of town council as early as next month.
Councilmember Turner said tests of Seabrook’s ham radio system had been conducted and though adequate, improvements are still being sought.
Better equipment, antennas and even vehicles might be leveraged to facilitate communications. He continued his report saying a SIPOA study of the effects of sea level rise recommended raising road beds and planting trees. The full report will be available on the town’s website as soon as possible. Turner’s reported ended with the mention of repairs on two local bridges.
The previously discussed replacement of both the Burden’s Creek and Hoopstick bridges is currently scheduled for the summer of 2016. This has reaped quite a bit of attention coming slap in the middle of hurricane season. Seabrook Fire Commissioner Sue Holloman echoed Turner’s concern saying, “fire departments all over [the Lowcountry] are sounding alarms about this.” Turner urged residents to be on the lookout and participate in a slate of upcoming meetings on the topic.
Councilmember Ron Ciancio said Seabrook had suspended the “Make it Uniquely Yours” campaign three months ahead of schedule, citing Conde Nast’s excessive burn rate. Winners of both the beach and tennis packages have already been and gone. Golf package winners have been identified and informed they have until the end of the year to redeem their prize. Don Romano, who took pains to be a good host to beach package recipients, offered to do the same for the golf package winners if/when fall schedules get any more complicated.
“There will be no sweepstakes next year,” said Ciancio. The focus of future efforts will be cost reduction and leveraging Charleston’s place as a favorite tourist destination. The Accommodations Tax, which provides the funding for such endeavors, comes with strict mandates on how it is applied. One of the ideas under consideration was the annual Billfish tournament hosted by Bohicket.
Councilmember Turner withheld support because the tournament was not “catch and release.” Councilmember Romano insisted the tournament would not make a dent in the species population, but Ciancio tabled the matter, wondering aloud if the event actually brought paying guests to the island. Other, less contentious items approved by the ATAX committee for consideration included the Fourth of July celebration, informational kiosks at Bohicket, assistance from Obviouslee Marketing and the Alan Fleming Senior Tennis Tournament.
The mayor’s report began in a “funny you should mention it” sort of way, with thanks expressed by Susan Malloy for Seabrook’s Primary Sponsorship of the Alan Fleming Senior Tennis Tournament.
The event begins on Oct. 8 with a party in the evening, a full on banquet the next and fierce, competitive tennis throughout.
Mayor Ahearn informed council everyone is welcome to participate in the events as time permitted. The tournament presently boasts 244 registered participants, the bulk of whom will be visiting from out of state. The mayor continued saying priority one is still resolution of trash and recycling contracts. Charleston County wants to work with the town instead of SIPOA and is requesting $52/ton to maintain the current arrangement. Negotiations are on-going.
Mayor Ahearn concluded his report saying Sen. Chip Campsen had been in touch offering assistance on issues related to roads/bridges on Johns Island. Many, including the mayor, question the timing of repairs coming as it does during the height of tourist and hurricane season. He repeated the advice residents should be on the lookout for and participate in the many, soon to be scheduled meetings on the topic.
The Seabrook Utility report included mention of 2.2 inches of rain in August, and financials for August were as strong as usual.
The only item for legislative action was a first reading of the new budget, which passed unanimously as an item for ongoing discussion.
Jerry Cummin, currently representing the Charleston Visitors Bureau reminded attendees how valuable relationships with elected officials like Leon Stavrinakis could be. Getting to know these folks could help with the many road related projects in the works, for example. He also noted Seabrook was not advertising on any of the CVB’s many sites. He inveighed on councilmember Ciancio to ask Obviouslee Marketing’s opinion of the matter. He concluded his remarks by announcing the CVB would be hosting two classes in Google Analytics (2-3 p.m. and again from 4-5 p.m.) on Oct. 13 in its boardroom located at 423 King St.