By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
John Gregg presided over the Nov. 19 meeting of Seabrook Island Town Council, but this time as the newly elected mayor. He was joined on the dais by Council members Jeri Finke and Skip Crane, re-elected to their second and third terms, respectively, as well as new Council members Barry Goldstein and Pat Fox.
Procedural obligations were followed by a rosy financial report for the month of October.
Total assets ticked back over the $5-million mark, paving the way for the rest of Gregg’s positive report. Unusually high expenses of $98,000 for the month of October were more than offset by $127,000 in revenues, Gregg reported. “… unrestricted revenue for the year, excluding use of transfers from the 2018 year-end general fund balance, was $1,243,277.99, representing about 65% of the 2019 annual budget. Expenditures for October totaled $97,964.97, and expenditures for the year total $1,026,225, representing about 53% of the 2019 annual budget,” said Gregg.
Tim Morawski was back as the newly re-elected commissioner of the Seabrook Island Utility with his own positive report. He said SIU earned $24,000 during the month of October, for a total of $172,000 year-to-date. The positive numbers are for providing fresh water. However, the utility’s wastewater functions continue to operate at a marginal loss, a problem which continues to resist solutions, he said. The only bad news Morawski reported was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declining SIU’s funding request for emergency generators.
Gregg stepped in with news that SITC had pitched the idea of additional generators to South Carolina’s branch of FEMA as a hazard mitigation measure. The town’s request for reimbursement of Hurricane Dorian-related expenses included not only the expense of renting
generators but also buying them.
“Buying generators is cheaper than renting them in a pinch,” said Gregg.
Crane provided the report for the Public Safety Committee. He said the town’s annual emergency preparedness exercise was the biggest single topic during their meeting on Nov. 12. The committee agreed with consultant Scott Cave that hurricanes are the realistic incident the town can prepare for, as opposed to earthquakes, terrorist attacks or tornados. Crane also reported the town’s website had been updated with emergency information provided by the CERT organization – pending updates from public safety.
Fox hit the ground running and came prepared with a schedule for town news.
Finke asked if Council member Goldstein would be taking over administration of the dolphin education program. However, Finke somehow ended up with the opportunity to build on the award-winning program. Finke will now be the town’s liaison to the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network moving forward.
Crane reported on the activities of his ad hoc committee to re-engineer the town’s Development Standards Ordinance. He said the DSO Committee identified seven components of the existing statute that need revision since last month’s report.
He cautioned the work is essential and will take most of next year to complete.
Crane mentioned that the committee’s work is public but also cautioned the effort is a bit technical and better suited to insomniacs. The mayor also tagged in to characterize the existing DSO along the lines of something “Frankensteined” together over time from a variety of sources and seconded Crane’s comment about the work’s necessity.
Gregg opened his mayor’s report with a raft of administrative duties precipitated by the election results of Nov. 5. Crane was appointed to the Public Safety Committee and to the position of mayor pro tem with unanimous support.
SITC also gave unanimous support for a renewal of AirMedCare’s contract with the town and added a part-time officer to enforce the new beach ordinance/leash law, defined as:
- Dogs are only allowed between boardwalks 1 and 9.
- Summer is considered to be April 1 through Sept. 30, and dogs must be on a leash from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
- Winter is defined as Oct. 1 through March 31, and dogs may always be off leash.
- Dogs are always required to be on leash Northwest of Boardwalk 9.
The mayor then turned to the state Legislature’s most recent threat to local government.
“As discussed at the Ways & Means meeting, the town received an invitation to join a group of South Carolina municipalities in expressing opposition to pending state legislation directed to reforming the regulation of business licensing practices,” said the mayor.
Gregg pointed out that SITC receives about 49% of its revenues from business licenses, and H4431 threatens SITC’s income in several ways. Not only would the state take control over and take a bite from the money generated by business licenses, H4431 also changes how the fees are calculated.
SITC uses gross income as the basis for its business license fees, and H4431 would base its fees on net income, which would further reduce SITC’s income. Additionally, SITC is already subject to limits on raising a property tax designed to offset the resulting shortfall. Nineteen legislators in Columbia think this is a good idea and have sponsored the legislation.
Gregg outlined a two-part course of action. He plans to add SITC as sponsors of a letter opposing the measure initiated by the Municipal Association of South Carolina. Seabrook will be joining six (and counting) other municipalities, including Hilton Head, Bluffton, Beaufort, Port Royal, Hardeeville and Yemesee.
Gregg will also send a carefully worded letter of opposition to State Sen. Chip Campsen and State Rep. Peter McCoy.
Gregg concluded his report by acknowledging receipt of a letter from a consortium of residents living on Old Drake Drive. The letter reads in part: “We … write to request your help in correcting landscaping deficiencies in the right of way between Old Drake Drive and the maintenance yard.
“Hurricane Dorian vastly exacerbated an ongoing problem in this right of way (or buffer zone). The area is an eyesore, and it does not meet Seabrook’s high standards for landscaping. We also are concerned because the dead trees along the right of way pose a real and present danger to pedestrians and passing cars. We respectfully request that you work together to devise and implement a remediation plan that will not only remove dead and dangerous plantings and clear vines but will, most importantly, also include new multiheight plantings to screen out the maintenance area from view.”
It was signed by Mark and Melodie Murphy, Stanley and Sally Macdonald, Geoffrey and Sue Woglom, Frank and Carol Stare, James and Mary Hill and Michael and Emily Mirabella.
Gregg, now accustomed to wearing multiple hats – though he insists he’s not a “hat guy” – also delivered the report for the ailing town administrator.
SITC will hold its annual holiday “drop-in” on Dec. 12, from noon to 2 p.m. at Town Hall. There will be food, beverages, live music and the Toys For Tots collection is always a favorite.
Representatives from ESP Associates Scott Ritchie and Chris Todd presented conceptual drawings and cost estimates for potential improvements at the Town Hall site. The upgrades will mitigate flooding, improve drainage and facilitate construction of a garage.
Their ala carte suggestions are: improvements to the pond/drainage on the north side of Town Hall – $367,000; additional parking in front of Town Hall – $140,000; additional parking to the north side of Town Hall – $60,000; drainage and additional entrances along the south side of Town Hall – $126,000; grand total for all four – $694,000. All estimates include a 25% contingency.
The mayor reported on a meeting with a representative of Reveer Group, the civil engineering firm consulting with SITC about traffic associated with development of the proposed senior living facility. Construction on the senior living center will not begin until the left lane is installed, and Reveer will produce a report reflecting likely impacts of traffic arising from that work. Gregg expects work on the lane to be done at night. It should begin during the first quarter of next year and take about three months to complete.
Mauldin & Jenkins has been selected as auditors of the town’s 2019 financials, Gregg reported. Their bid was below the budgeted amount, and a suitable agreement will be drafted and made official at the next meeting of Town Council.
Ordinance 2019-12, scheduled for a first reading, was the last item on the agenda. The measure updates the town’s beach management plan as required by the state every five years. The measure passed unanimously and is scheduled for a public hearing and second reading on Dec. 17.