By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
Those hoping for a shorter Seabrook Island town council meeting during the holiday season grew apprehensive upon being handed a very busy looking agenda. The gathering got an early start with the mayor announcing the opening of public comments on Seabrook’s 2017 budget. Mayor Ciancio didn’t wait around, and got right to work approving three sets of minutes before turning to the financial report for the month of November. Mayor Ciancio reported revenue was up $119,341 for the month of November.
He credited the abundance to benevolent timing in the receipt of funds from accommodations tax (ATAX) and local option sales tax. The figure puts Seabrook ahead of forecast by $236,745.09 with another month left in the reporting period. Expenses exceeded projections for the month of Nov. by $14,000. The cost overrun was largely attributed to roadway repairs in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, said the mayor. Expenses are still down $75,000 for the year to date, and the general fund boasts $2,146,665. This represents an increase of $371,666 over last year.
Council member John Gregg reported the club’s long range planning committee met on the 28th of Nov. to review their most recent survey. They met again the following day to review the same results with the club’s membership. The committee will meet again on the 12th of Jan. to hash out objectives.
Gregg reported the public safety committee met on the 12th of Dec. They reviewed emergency contact information for the refrigerator magnet the town will distribute to residents, once the project is approved by council. Gregg seemed pleased to report updates to the website’s emergency preparation content have been completed, forwarded to the vendor, and are already in place. The committee also reviewed the Comprehensive Emergency Plan.
The plan had been revised in the wake of Hurricane Matthew to include “lessons learned” from the event. Updates are still being digested, but should be in place before the start of the next hurricane season in June. Changes will begin in earnest during a meeting to be held on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017. Gregg also alerted attendees the Disaster Recovery team is planning an exercise to be held the 5th and 6th of Jan. 2017. The exercise will be overseen by Scott Cave of Coastal Science Engineering (CSE). The usual array of county officials will be invited, including; South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD), Charleston County Sheriff’s Department and the St. Johns Fire District.
Gregg concluded his report for public safety by saying the town has completed the process of applying for public assistance to help defray costs associated with Matthew.
The process is a cumbersome interplay of SCEMD and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, if the request is approved, Seabrook stands to regain as much as 80 percent of their stated losses. So far, the application seems to be moving along nicely. Copies of receipts have been requested and a tour of the damage is being scheduled for SCEMD and FEMA representatives.
Council member John Turner reported another recent test of the town’s ham radio system had vexed him, but seemed less alarmed than in previous months.
Interference produced by the town’s LED lighting system is now the widely accepted culprit and while a solution is still being sought, “we can always turn out the lights in an emergency,” Turner said. He also reported Randy Pierce helped him map out locations for the marker buoy system, intended to highlight dog on/off leash areas along the beach. The system marks a line in the sand from the dunes into the surf, but a better fix for mooring is needed. He hopes to rectify any issues before the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) arrives to count Piping Plovers, one of the primary reasons for the protective system. Turner concluded his report with a summary of the Environmental Committee meeting.
They met to review the results of the deer study. The data showed no population growth, which would require a cull of the population at this time, he said.
Council member John Wells reported meeting with Robert George Engineering Services on Dec. 7th. Plans for drainage improvements along Seabrook road between the town hall and the traffic circle are on schedule for early February completion. Wells also took advantage of the opportunity to thank Obviouslee Marketing for five years of dedicated and productive service. Ashley Brady of Obviouslee stepped in and described 2016 as a productive year. Seabrook continued advertising with the Charleston Visitors Bureau, Southern Living Magazine, and Southwest Air’s inflight magazine. She noted, however, those programs have been narrowed to the South Carolina/North Carolina region for better effect.
Council member Skip Crane reported operations at both Bohicket Marina and Camp St. Christopher are back to normal after the hurricane. He said the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association (SIPOA) had approved both a strategic plan and a budget for 2017. He also reported 1605 subscribers to SIPOA’s Tidelines blog, making it an invaluable communications tool.
SIPOA recently held a food drive with a goal of 1,000 pounds, Crane said. The community association far exceeded the mark collecting 3,500 pounds of food for local pantries. Additionally, SIPOA approved a special assessment of $210 per property (not per member) to cover hurricane related expenses. John Turner observed owners of multiple homes on the island would need to pay the assessment for each property.
The report of the ad hoc ATAX advisory committee was ready in time for inclusion in the 2017 budget after their Oct. 26th meeting. Much like last year, the committee recommended $5,000 for the Allen Fleming Sr. Tennis Tournament, $17,000 for Kick It at Bohicket events, $8,000 for the annual Billfish Tournament, and $4,200 for overflow parking associated with the Billfish Tournament. The committee denied a pair of requests from the marina for $1,000 in kiosk upgrades, and $2,000 for message boards.
Reports of town officers were extensive this month, but handled with the usual efficiency. The town council meeting schedule for 2017 was approved, John Gregg was approved for another year as Mayor Pro Tem, and town attorney Stephen Brown of Clement, Young, and Rivers was appointed for an additional year. The mayor stated Brown’s rates were reasonable, and his performance exemplary.
The Planning Commission’s three seats remained occupied by incumbents, as did the six seats on the ATAX committee.
However, the Board of Zoning Appeals has a few changes. Longtime chair Joe Sanders is retiring his seat amid sincere thanks from Mayor Ciancio. His seat will be filled by Robert Leggett, and a second vacancy will be filled by Walter Sewell.
Minor changes were made to the town’s zoning map and the town decided to spend slightly more than $3,000 on a Fire King fireproof filing cabinet. The much needed filing space will be paid for out of miscellaneous funds with an existing balance of $9,000. The conclusion of town officer’s reports paved the way for a bit of a surprise from the utility.
Tim Morawski, the newest member of the utility commission presented his first status report to town council. He apologized for the financials being slightly behind because Hawthorne Services (utility management) is upgrading software.
The utility showed positive income of $25,000 for the most recent period, but expects an annual loss of $12,000 for 2016. The commission also approved their annual budget and hopes to add four new generators for lift stations on the island. Asked if the equipment was new or damaged by Matthew, Morawski said it was new equipment. He did say the equipment was being considered because of potential vulnerabilities Matthew revealed, but not because of damage. He further qualified this information by saying the equipment will be purchased throughout 2017 depending on cash flow. He concluded his report by reminding attendees the utility was instituting a 6 percent rate increase in waste water treatment, making a point to mention this was the first rate increase since 1996. Kiawah’s utility, by contrast, filed for a 25.57 percent rate increase on both waste and fresh water on the heels of an increase in 2012, and future increases are expected.
There were no ordinances for first reading putting the 2017 budget at the plate for a second reading. The measure passed unanimously (after months of review) with few questions and little discussion needed, despite four minor changes.
There were a few informational questions during the second round of citizen’s comments which ended quickly. There being no further business the meeting was adjourned in a brisk 50 minutes.