Mayor Holtz reported that financials for the Town are looking good as of the end of July. Revenues are $27,488.30 below budget for the year-to-date, but Holtz noted that this was due to several checks coming in late. Excess of revenues over expenditures for the year-to-date is $17,826.12 and overall the town is running ahead of budget. “Basically the town is doing okay. Everything is in good shape and we’re working with the POA and the Club and trying to get some things done,” said Holtz.
“You know about as much about the roads as I do right now,” reported Councilmember Sam Reed in regard to the progress on I-526 and the Sea Islands Greenway. Reed noted that plans for the Greenway are on hold until a decision is made about 526.
Regarding the Sense of Place initiative, Reed reported that the Economic Vitality Subcommittee is busy discussing several options for ways to allow more economic vitality in the town. Preliminary discussions include the consideration of options outside of the gate and other ways to generate sales. “No decisions were made. We’re just tossing things out for the consultant to take a look at,” said Reed.
Councilmember Terry Ahearn stated that it was a little early to give a full report on how effective their efforts were regarding visibility for the Town during the PGA, but from his personal point of view, he was somewhat disappointed.
“It was no big surprise that it was not as busy as expected. We had a band, beer carts, and activities galore, but not as many people as we hoped to have,” said Ahearn.
A good part of the reason was the length of the walk from the parking area behind Freshfields to the actual Freshfields Village, as well as the distance between parking and the golf course.
“After a few hours on Kiawah and walking a half mile back to my car, all I wanted to do was go home, take a shower, and relax. I think that’s how a lot of people felt,” said Ahearn.
Joe Salvo, Broker in Charge for Seabrook Island Real Estate, added that another reason for low attendance for the afternoon and evening activities was the stormy weather. Two of the five nights were a complete washout and a lot of the visitors were staying downtown as opposed to the islands.
“I think it was successful for us. We sold at least one house directly because of it and we wound up with about 400 leads from people outside of the area and outside of the state. On the balance, I think we did okay. I feel good about it,” said Salvo.
In addition to their efforts during the PGA, the Visibility Committee was happy to report that they were receiving hundreds of inquiries about Seabrook from their recent ads in regional editions of Southern Living.
“The Mayor, in his goodness, is sending out form responses himself. He’s sent out about 900 so far along with a brochure on where to eat, stay, et cetera,” said Ahearn.
Ken Kavanaugh of the Seabrook Island Club reported that golf revenue was more than double for the week of the PGA at $350,000 compared to $149,000 the same week last year. In total, about 1500 rounds of golf were played during the PGA on Seabrook Island.
“They weren’t good golfers, they kept hitting my house,” Mayor Holtz said jokingly.
The Town website is continuing to grow and receive more online traffic according to Communications Committee Chair Jerry Cummin. Last quarter, the Town’s marketing company Obviouslee Marketing reported that the site received 23,000 visitors, 19,000 of which were first time viewers, which is an excellent number for a new site.
Cummin also reported that the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) successfully tested the new ham radio installed at Town Hall for use in case of a disaster if other forms of communication become unavailable.
“There were nine of us involved in the test and it went well, we’re pleased to report,” said Cummin.
Councilmember and Chair of the Public Safety Committee Ron Ciancio was out of town for a visit to China but provided an update on the committee’s activities. Councilmember Cummin read his report for the Council.
During the Public Safety meeting on August 15, the committee discussed debris management for the town and, based on their comparisons with the debris removal plan for the city of Palm Beach, Florida, FEMA’s reimbursement policy, and recent conversations with Charleston County, they will be recommending a number of changes. The recommendations will be presented to the Town Council shortly.
Regarding Ciancio’s proposal earlier this year to provide a list of contractors who can provide emergency roof coverings following a disaster, that information is now available on the Town website under the Town Administration section. Ciancio stressed, however, that while the list provides contact information for Town licensed contractors who can provide this service, the Town does not vouch for the quality of the service, nor is it responsible for payment; the list is simply for the convenience of residents.
Plans for the Town’s 25th anniversary celebration are progressing well and several of the Town entities are on board to provide various services. The Property Owners’ Association (POA) security team will be assisting with the event and CERT will help with crowd control. A committee from the POA will also be decorating the Lake House and providing plants for placement around the band shell.
“At this point we remain in budget for the event and I will do my best to find a sister city for Seabrook while I’m in China,” Ciancio wrote.
Clarifying on Emergency Funds
Ciancio’s report also included the details regarding debris removal assistance from Charleston County and FEMA. While there are reimbursement schedules in place for clearing public roads, the level of assistance behind the gate depends on several factors including the severity of the storm. The County has sufficient assets to help in a relatively prompt manner and over the course of three to four days will clear a single road behind the gate using a “push and shove” method. The second half of that phase includes a more complete cleanup but the reimbursement schedule is a bit more complex.
“The real cost of cleanup is in the debris removal, which is the second step. That’s where the controversy is,” said Councilmember Ahearn.
Mayor Holtz stated that the Town is working with the POA on the best solution and if the Town can legally help, it will. “We don’t have unlimited resources to do it, but we will set aside an amount,” said the Mayor.
Councilmember Reed stated that, while the Town has $500,000 set aside for an emergency, that fund is currently listed for capital improvements. Reed suggested that they change the fund’s use category from capital improvements to capital improvements and emergency uses. The Council approved of the fund category renaming unanimously.
“That was an excellent report by Ron, by the way. He really does work full time on public safety,” said the Mayor.
Mayor Holtz presented Jeffrey Bostock, Chairman of the Seabrook Island Utility Commission, with a letter stating that the Town was giving the Commission 45 days notice that they would be collecting on their $440,000 loan to the Commission.
“We just need you to free up that money and we’ll put it in the emergency fund. We just wanted to let you know,” said Holtz.
“We’ll follow your directions, Mayor,” Bostock replied.
Mayor Holtz also reported that the PGA did an excellent job repairing the Freshfields parking entrance on the side of Seabrook Island road and as such, the Town would be returning the $20,000 retainer set aside for any necessary additional repairs.
Town Administrator’s Report
Town Administrator Randy Pierce agreed that the PGA put everything back along the road nicely and the only change needed was in the type of grass used as a replacement. The grass along Seabrook Island road is a specific type that is resistant to salt water, so the PGA will be replacing it shortly.
Pierce also noted that the Town is once again participating in the Charleston County Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan and their updates are on the County website. Participation in the program allows the Town to receive significant discounts on flood insurance, and Peirce noted that they are currently receiving a 20 percent discount.
Utility Chairman Bostock reported that the waste water treatment upgrade is on schedule and running as expected. “Everything is doing fine and there are no issues,” he said.
Alan Fleming Tournament
The Council unanimously approved a request for the placement of a 20 x 30 foot tent at the Racquet Club during the Alan Fleming Tennis Tournament, which will take place this October 2 through October 7. Mayor Holtz also encouraged the Club to use the Town’s new mobile pole stand to display a banner for the event, if they wished.
Lynn Pierotti, publisher of the Island Connection, attended the meeting in response to several letters to the editor received by the paper over the past week. Pierotti welcomed questions and comments from the Council and Councilmember Ahearn inquired as to why a recent contribution was listed as an Op-Ed and not as a letter to the editor.
“My understanding is that ‘Op-Ed’ is ‘Opposite the Ediorial.’ It’s usually an opinion piece and if the facts are inaccurate, they’re inaccurate, but why was it called an Op-Ed and not listed as a letter?” asked Ahearn.
Pierotti replied that the paper bases its Op-Ed section on the definition followed by the New York Times and that while the paper edits for grammar, it does not edit for content. “It’s always that person’s opinion and one that’s not usually read in the paper. That’s why it’s titled such; it’s something that’s removed from the general tone and content of our paper,” said Pierotti.
Pierotti added that, in the future, the paper would be listing Op-Ed contributors separately in the masthead and that the paper would be sure to be as clear as possible that Op-Eds only reflect the opinion of the writer, not the paper. “But we still want to be an open forum as long as it’s a local issue,” said Pierotti.
Mayor Holtz added that they just wanted to differentiate letters to the editor from Op-Ed.
“We’re open, as a Town, to any conversation you want to have. It just makes the paper look like it’s in favor of the Op-Ed,” said Holtz.
“We’ll be sure to differentiate that better in the future. We didn’t endorse an Op-Ed for completing 526 just because we printed it. We’re not perfect, we freely admit it. We have a staff that works hard on this for slight remuneration. We’re sorry if we hurt people, but our desire as a community paper is to provide balance,” said Pierotti.
Before closing the meeting, Kavanaugh asked if the graphic, along with the headline and author bio, in the Op-Ed in question were provided by the writer. Pierotti asked Island Connection editor Kristin Hackler to reply and she stated that while the headline and author bio were provided by the writer, the graphic was added in order to fill an awkward spacing issue in the page’s layout.